(Adds Veolia China comments on incident)
* Benzene levels in tapwater 20 times over safety level
* Citizens stock up on bottled water and other drinks
* Veolia says pollution due to industrial contamination
BEIJING/PARIS, April 11 Residents in the Chinese
city of Lanzhou rushed to buy bottled drinks on Friday after
authorities said benzene, a cancer-inducing chemical, had been
found in tapwater at 20 times above national safety levels.
The water supply was turned off in one district, and
officials warned citizens not to drink tapwater for the next 24
"Lanzhou has shut down the contaminated water supply pipe
and deployed activated carbon to absorb the benzene," local
authorities said in a statement.
The water supply company, Lanzhou Veolia Water Co, is
majority-owned by the city government, with Veolia China, a unit
of French firm Veolia Environnement, holding a
"Initial investigation showed the high levels of benzene
were caused by industrial contamination at one of the two
culverts that transfer raw water from a sedimentation plant to
the water treatment plant," Veolia said in a statement.
Authorities said they found 200 micrograms of benzene per
litre of water. The national safety standard is 10 micrograms.
Lanzhou, a heavily industrialised city of 3.6 million people
in the northwestern province of Gansu, ranks among China's most
Preliminary inspection showed the benzene came from
chemical plants, the local government said on its website,
although no culprit was named. The environmental bureau is
carrying out further investigations.
Operation of the polluted culverts has been suspended,
Lanzhou Veolia Water was working to redirect to its water
treatment plant water which usually goes to a power plant, which
should restore normal supply as soon as possible, Veolia said.
China's official Xinhua news agency said an initial
investigation had found problems in a three-km (two-mile)
channel which links a plant that pre-processes the water and the
plant that supplies the city's water.
Closure of that channel would halve Lanzhou's water supply,
the report quoted Tian Hong, head of Lanzhou's water quality
monitoring station, as saying.
Fire engines would carry water to affected areas, it added.
Pictures circulating widely on Chinese Internet sites showed
long lines at grocery stores where people were loading up on
anything drinkable. Other images showed barren shelves cleared
of bottled water.
"It's not just bottled water that is gone. Even all the beer
and milk has been snatched up," one resident wrote on the
Twitter-like service Weibo.
The Yellow River, which runs through Lanzhou, has not been
contaminated, Xinhua said.
Xinhua said it was the second water-related incident in
Lanzhou in as many months.
In March, residents reported a strange odour when they
turned on their taps. It was found to be a high concentration of
ammonia, but was still within national limits.
In 2005, water supplies to the northeastern city of Harbin
were cut off after an explosion at a chemical plant spilled
benzene into the Songhua River, pushing levels to more than 100
times safe limits.
(Reporting by Stian Reklev, Kathy Chen, Ben Blanchard and
Michael Martina in China and Geert De Clercq in Paris; Editing
by Andrew Roche)