Beijing (China): Nearly 100 million people in China have been supplied with drinking water containing unsafe levels of toxic chemicals.
A team from Tsinghua University has observed the levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) that are man-made chemicals used in fabrics and pesticides, by using data from previous studies, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
The study found that the concentration of PFAS in more than 20 percent of the studied Chinese cities exceeded safe levels. Since China has no national safety standards, the study used the US state of Vermont’s regulations as the benchmark.
The cities with high levels included Wuxi, Hangzhou, and Suzhou in eastern China and Foshan in the southern province of Guangdong, according to SCMP.
The mean concentration of PFASs in eastern China was 2.6 times that of the country’s north, which the report’s authors attributed to intensive industrial activity and high population density.
Roland Weber, a co-author of the study, said that some PFAS chemicals were more dangerous than others, especially the chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS, which have been linked to a variety of health risks.
The two toxic chemicals – PFOA and PFOS – do not break down in the human body or environment and can accumulate over time, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
China is now one of the largest manufacturers and consumers of PFAS but it has no guidelines for their presence in drinking water. However, it is a party to the Stockholm Convention, which aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants and is working to phase out the use of PFOS.
Weber added that China needs to analyze drinking water as well as groundwater and contaminated sites to understand the scale of the problem and then draw up plans to tackle it.
“Europe and the United States are facing large challenges with monitoring and controlling PFAS contaminated sites and I think it is now the right time that China is moving forward, making science-based limits and then cleaning the drinking water and control emissions from industries and other uses,” he said.