|A woman buys bottled water at a store in Shanghai, Jan. 28, 2013. ImagineChina|
A recent report in the Beijing News highlighted outdated testing standards for bottled water, saying that while piped tap water had to undergo 106 tests for water quality indicators, the standards for bottled water dated back to the 1950s and only required 20 tests.
It quoted an expert at the Chinese Academy of Science as saying that there are "concerns" over spring water currently on the market.
Consumer safety lawyer Ji Laisong said most people believed that bottled water, which is often sold as "natural" or "spring" water, was held to higher standards than piped tap water.
"I am very concerned about this, because I was very surprised [by the article]," he said. "I knew the [testing regime] was a mess, but I didn't realize how big a mess."
He said standards needed to be raised in the testing of bottled water to meet market standards.
"In fact, it's very simple," Ji said. "But I am very pessimistic about whether they can achieve it."
Public health scandals
Chinese consumers are reeling in the wake of a string of public health scandals affecting foodstuffs and medicines in recent years, including melamine-tainted infant formula milk, used "gutter" cooking oil, and tainted vaccines.
In March, Shanghai's water quality caught headlines after thousands of swollen and rotting dead pigs were found dumped in the Huangpu River, prompting many residents to turn to bottled water in spite of assurances by local officials that supplies were up to standard.
Rapidly worsening air and water pollution, as well as disputes over the effects of heavy metals from mining and industry, have forced may people to become increasingly involved in environmental protection and protest.
Activists and journalists who confront the authorities and vested commercial interests over pollution and product safety are often subject to revenge attacks and government harassment, however.
Public supervision issue
Beijing-based veteran journalist Gao Yu said the gaping hole in the regulation of bottled water was the direct result of the government's restriction of safety and pollution information and its harassment of those who speak out on the topic.
"We already have very serious tap water pollution and now the problem has been shunted off into the private sector," she said. "Those who suffer are the consumers."
She said there had been plenty of talk among officials of the ruling Chinese Communist Party at the annual parliamentary meetings in March, but that it required government leadership to address the problem via a number of different departments.
"The issue of public supervision is the most important one here," Gao said. "But we don't have that right now, and the media is being very tightly controlled."
"This is an issue that has to do with unchecked power."
She said the article had also highlighted the worrying problem of powerful corporate interest groups when it came to setting new standards for bottled water.
"None of the officials in charge of these spring water factories will drink the stuff, because they know what the quality is like," Gao said.
"Officials are so corrupt, and the food industry producers all have ties with these officials," she said. "This means that the supervision [and quality testing] process never leaves this circle of vested interest."
"The whole thing is driven by corruption."
'I don't know what to drink'
Netizens reacted to the Beijing News article with dismay.
"We can't rely on bottled water, and we can't rely on tap water," wrote one microblog user. "I don't know what to drink. They all fail."
A Shanghai resident identified as @shanshishuishang added: "The tap water comes from the Huangpu River and mineral water comes from Qiandao Lake. Perhaps you can get pure water on the Pole Star?"
Recent data from Beijing showed that around 90 percent of groundwater in China is polluted, much of it severely, with activists blaming local governments for protecting polluting enterprises.
In a recent survey of water quality in 118 cities across China, 64 percent of cities had "severely polluted" groundwater, Xinhua news agency quoted experts from the ministry of water resources as saying.
Activists say lack of access to clean ground water has dire consequences for hundreds of millions of rural residents, who rely on such water both for personal use and for watering their crops.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
Credit & Copy From; http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/water-05032013111712.html