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Benzene Slick In China Highlights Water Pollution

The plight of an estimated 190 million Chinese, who regularly drink polluted water, is now in sharp focus due to the benzene slick moving down the Songhua river, causing the suspension of drinking water supply to 3.8 million people in Harbin city.//

"In China, freshwater is being threatened from population pressure and rapid economic development," the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said Thursday.

"In the last half century, China's population has more than doubled and become heavily concentrated along the major river valleys," WWF China said in a statement, adding: "Untreated sewage and industrial waste pollute some 70 percent of China's rivers."

Some 75 percent of rivers are also over-enriched with nutrients flushed into them from agricultural land, according to government estimates.

This year's annual government report on water quality said some 190 million Chinese people were drinking water containing "harmful contaminants" and a total of 300 million lacked access to safe drinking water.

"Freshwater ecosystems are by far in worse condition than forest, grassland, and coastal ecosystems," WWF said.

"Currently, most of China's rivers are menaced with shrinkage, dysfunction, contamination and other problems," Chen Bangzhu, director of a government-run population, resources and environment committee, said at a national conference on lake water quality Wednesday.

"The worsening conditions of these endangered rivers are caused by a booming economy, the expansion of population and irrational development," the government's official Xinhua news agency quoted Chen as saying.

Lack of adequate legislation and poor environmental monitoring were other factors contributing to the increasing pollution of China's rivers and lakes, Chen said.

"Without scientific guidance, some rivers are polluted with illegal discharge of waste and overuse of fertilizers," he was quoted as s
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