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China’s Water Treatment Plants Are Pumping Out Cancer

REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

China’s water contains dangerous amounts of a cancer-causing agent, a new research study shows.

Samples were taken from 155 sites in 44 cities in 23 provinces over the course of three years. Traces of nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) were found in the water of all of the evaluated cities.

NDMA, a known carcinogen and contaminant, is said to be a byproduct of China’s water treatment process, which involves heavy chlorination. “Industrial and sewage contamination might also be blamed for high levels,” Chen Chao, the lead researcher and an associate professor in the School of Environment at Tsinghua University, told Science and Technology Daily.

Roughly 80 percent of China’s water is reportedly unsafe for human contact, China’s Ministry of Water Resources revealed in April.

The NDMA levels in China’s water are three to four times that of the U.S. The average in China was 11 ng per liter for finished water and 13 ng per liter for tap water. Figures around 30 ng per liter were seen in the Yangtze River Delta. In source areas, the average figure was 66 ng per liter.

In the U.S., some states require NDMA levels to be below 10 ng per liter. In other countries, the standard is higher.

NDMA cancer-causing properties have been proven through animal testing, according to the World Health Organization . Ingestion could cause colon and stomach cancer.

In addition to being a carcinogen, NDMA is said to damage the liver and is considered poisonous in high concentrations.

While acknowledging the link between NDMA and cancer, Chen Wanqing with the National Central Cancer Registry said that it was unlikely that people would develop cancer from drinking tap water.

Drinking water expert Li Fuxing, however, warned Chinese citizens to boil their water and use bottled water to cook rice. He noted that traditional filters were ineffective.

Chen Chao has called for immediate domestic reforms.

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