China Daily States the Obvious: Don’t Drink the Water in Beijing

January 9, 2013

China Daily tells us that perhaps we shouldn’t drink tap water in Beijing. {Gasp!} I guess it’s better than not that this sort of “news” gets in the paper. In the old days, we wouldn’t have seen this kind of negative coverage of public services at all.

On the other hand, I don’t know anyone who drinks tap water. Granted, most of the folks I know have the financial resources to buy bottled water, and there are many Beijing residents who cannot do so. But even though some residents drink the stuff, I don’t think they are under the mistaken impression that it is potable.

On occasion when I run out of bottled water in the morning, I’ll run some tap water through my coffee maker. Just seeing that off-white stuff, complete with suspended particulate matter, tells you everything you need to know. It also explains why I’ve gone through three coffee makers in the past five years. After six months or so, the inner workings of the device compares favorably to a stalactite formation in the Carlsbad Caverns. And not in a good way.

All this being said, let’s consider this to be a public service message from China Daily:

“I have not drunk tap water for 20 years,” said Zhao, a researcher on drinking water at the Beijing Healthcare Association. “The capital’s water has gotten more polluted in recent years.”

“In the past we used to drink directly from Miyun Reservoir (on the outskirts of the city), which was built in 1958 and is one of the largest in North China,” she said. “The water quality at the reservoir at that time was on a par with Germany, which has strict standards for surface water. But not now.”

Beijing Waterworks Group, which is responsible for the water supply, assures residents that tap water is safe and meets the national water quality standard.

Zhao does not deny that the quality complies with the national standard. Tests she conducted several days ago, as well as those by the waterworks group late last year, show the concentration of nitrite in tap water is more than 9 milligrams per liter, under the national standard of 10 mg/l.

However, it is the significant change that she has seen in quality that worries her. “The figure was within 2 mg/l six years ago and within 5 mg/l in 2011,” she said. “It’s an indisputable fact that the city’s water quality is getting worse at an alarming rate.”

In terms of livability, Beijing peaked for me around 2003. However, despite the fact that the water seems to be getting worse, I’m keen to stick around and see how this will all get fixed. I have confidence that it will. Eventually.

Until then, all the humans and cats in my family will remain on a strict bottled water diet.