Toxic levels of the heavy metal manganese were found in the small town of Da’an, Guandong, recently. According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, the town’s tap water supply contains 12 times the amount allowed by the government.
One fifth of the 50,000 residents of mostly rural area are thought to be suffering from physical ailments brought about by exposure to the manganese; warnings are being circulated not to drink the tap water.
The company dispensing the tainted tap water is the Da’an Waterworks, one of the two local water suppliers. Mr. Wang from the city government of Lufeng and environmental specialists are investigating the problem. Part of their efforts to persuade the populace that everything is under control included posting red papers throughout the town’s main streets: “We’re trying to remedy the situation and will keep you posted.”
Many residents from Da’an have been busy toting, walking, and bicycling spring water from nearby mountains; authorities have been monitoring local businesses to insure that price gouging does not occur for bottled water still on the shelves.
According to state media 0.1 milligrams per liter of manganese is permitted by law; the presence of 12 times that amount has had local authorities of Da’an perplexed: there are no manganese mines or related industries nearby.
While small amounts of manganese in the body are essential for health, high levels of chronic exposure can cause damage to the nervous system.
High concentrations of heavy metals are a common by-product of industrial waste. With China’s recent unprecedented surge in industrial growth, particularly in the field of electronic manufacturing, concern for environmental and safety issues has lagged far behind. Chemical effluent from factories commonly ends up polluting waterways.
Over the past several weeks the issue of tainted water has become an especially pressing issue. 7,000 barrels of toxic chemicals were driven by flood waters into the Songhua River, a source of water for communities in the northeast China. In late July, a massive oil spill tainted the northeastern coast.