Over 80 per cent of China's underground water drawn from relatively shallow wells used by farms, factories and mostly rural households is unsafe for drinking due to pollution, says a government report.
In the water resources ministry study posted on its website on Tuesday, samples drawn in January from 2,103 wells were analysed for monitoring in the country's major eastern flat-land watersheds.
According to the ministry, of those samples 32.9 per cent were classed as suitable only for industrial and agricultural use, while 47.3 per cent were unfit for human consumption of any type, and although water in wells in the Beijing area was rated better overall than elsewhere in the northeast, none was pristine.
Following the release of the report yesterday, officials sought to reassure the public that most household water used by urban Chinese households was safe as it came from reservoirs, deep aquifers or rivers that were treated to ensure safety.
''The quality of drinking water is good overall,'' Chen Mingzhong, director of the ministry's Department of Water Resources, told reporters at a news conference.
According to commentators, most public attention in recent years had focused on heavy air pollution in recent years in Chinese cities, although water and soil contamination too were serious issues environmentalists had pointed out.
''From my point of view, this shows how water is the biggest environmental issue in China,'' said Dabo Guan, a professor at the University of East Anglia in the UK who had been studying water pollution and scarcity in China, The New York Times reported.
''People in the cities, they see air pollution every day, so it creates huge pressure from the public. But in the cities, people don't see how bad the water pollution is,'' professor Guan said. ''They don't have the same sense.''
The latest statistics were not the first about the damage sustained by China's underground water reservoirs and basins from farming and industry runoff.
Still, the numbers, which were issued recently but received extensive coverage in the Chinese news media only yesterday, revived concern.