Almost 80 percent water used in rural China is unsafe for human contact finds ministry

The shallow wells were polluted with heavy elements besides nitrates and ammonias.

The state of China's groundwater is no better than its air. Runoff from industries and agricultural has turned about 80 percent of its groundwater unsafe for contact, let alone consumption. Nearly 70 percent of Chinese people drink water from these underground sources.

A survey by the Ministry of Water Resources in 18 provinces tested 2,103 wells in the basins of the Yangtze, Yellow River, Huai River and Hai River and found contamination by even toxic heavy metals and organic pollutants, besides ammonias and nitrates in the water.

About half the wells tested had extremely bad water quality while a third of them had bad quality water, both unsafe for human contact. None had excellent quality water, reported Chinese media.

The survey covered mostly shallow wells as used in the rural countryside unlike the deep wells used in cities.

Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said severe contamination of shallow groundwater systems was a result of pollution in rivers and lakes from industrial and agricultural emissions.

The ministry of environmental protection had earlier found that 60 percent of the water in 202 cities was polluted.

Critics maintain the groundwater quality standards are outdated and monitoring is insufficient, suggesting the situation could be worser. They point to petrochemical pollutants missing from the quality standards, reports SCMP.

Over-extraction of groundwater was the other concern, which Ma Juan warned could lead to cave-ins and rock fractures. China's use of underground water grew from 57 billion cubic meters a year in the 1970s to 110 billion cubic meters in 2009 and caters to a fifth of the country's needs.