More than 80 percent of underground wells tested in China have water too polluted for human consumption, according to a new survey released by the Ministry of Water resources.
The ministry tested 2,103 wells across China’s polluted plains and found that 32.9 percent of wells had water with Grade 4 quality, which means it could only serve industrial uses. An additional 47.3 percent of wells had water that was even more polluted with a Grade 5 rating.
Dabo Guan, a professor at Britain’s University of East Anglia who has been studying China’s water pollution, says water contamination is becoming a huge issue.
“From my point of view, this shows how water is the biggest environmental issue in China,” Guan said in an interview with The New York Times.
Agricultural and industrial runoff has severely affected a chunk of China’s water supply which is heavily used on farms, factories, and households. Underground wells provide a fifth of the country’s total water supply and they account for two thirds of water used domestically, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
However, the ministry tested water that’s moderately close to the surface. Many Chinese cities get their water from wells that are up to thousands of feet underground. Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, says most municipalities don’t use underground water that’s close to the surface.
“Fewer and fewer cities are using the heavily polluted shallow-depth underground water,” Ma said in an interview with the New York Times. “Most are digging deep wells for drinking. This is a very important distinction that must be made.”
However, Ma says some people in small towns and the countryside still use shallow underground water for domestic needs.
In 2011, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced a plan to cut pollution of underground water sources by the end of the decade. That year, the ministry announced that nearly half of 2,071 tested wells had “quite poor” water quality while an additional 36 percent had “extremely low” water quality.