An Overview of Water Pollutants in China

July 12, 2017

Whether you’re currently living in China or planning on visiting you may already be aware that China’s tap water is not suitable for drinking. However, there’s a lot of inaccurate and old information on the internet about the quality of tap water in China. This article will look to dispel rumours and provide concise, up to date guide on water pollution in China.



So, is China’s tap water safe? YES! An occasional cup won’t kill you but make no mistake;the long-term effects from drinking China’s tap water can be severe.Conversely, China’s tap water is also safe to wash yourself in, is it ideal for your skin? No, but you shouldn’t be worried unless you’re predisposed with sensitive skin.


The following paragraphs will answer questions such as: what kind of pollutant can be found in the water, where it comes from and why it can be harmful to your body and health.

Generally, pollutants are divided into two categories: measurable and immeasurable. Measurable pollutants are pollutants which can be measured by size. There is 4 different categories: particles, bacteria, virus and heavy metals.




Particles are the biggest and their size varies from around 1 to 50 μm. Most of the time they are sediments such as sand or rust. Over time water causes erosion, small particles are taken from their original place and dissolved into the water. The same phenomena happen in the pipes of our water distribution system. The old metal pipes develop rust andthese rust particles dissolve the into the water.Another source of particle’s is from factories, waste product from factories can be found in the ground and water sources and is harmful to consume.







Bacteria are much smaller than particles but everybody who has had a flu before knows how they can harm our body. Bacteria is a natural component of lakes and rivers, it is not strange to find it in Shanghai’s tap water, because the water source is the Yangtze river. With the size of 0.1 μm membranes are needed to filter them out of the water. The over consumption of bacteria contaminated water can lead to diarrhea, cramps or headaches.





With the size of just 0.001 μm, viruses are an invisible threat for the human organism and can lead to serious sicknesses when being consumed with the water. Because its presence lead to an outbreak of gastroenteritis, stomach flu in 1988 in Shanghai the government improved the water treatment techniques to prevent such a catastrophe of happening again.




Heavy Metals

Dissolved into the water they only possess a size of 0.005 μm and are therefore the smallest measurable pollutant. They are part of the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) number, which measures the total number of dissolved solids in the water. TDS can be good such as minerals and bad such as the heavy metals. Through improvements of the water treatment technology this number can be lowered which the government did for the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The number in 2008 as high as 580 mg of TDS per liter and 400 mg/l in 2010. In 2014 we were at only 200 mg/l.

The only way to remove them from the water is by using a reverse osmosis filter. This RO membrane can filter pollutants which are bigger than 0.0001 μm and therefore heavy metals too. Because of their small size, heavy metals can cause damage to the human body on a cellular level and especially affecting the cardiovascular system on children and adult alike.




Immeasurable pollutants

In this category are all the liquids and gases which are pollutants but cannot be measured in size, like for example chlorine, pesticides or smell and colour of the water.



The chlorine level in Shanghai’s water is higher compared to the international level. To prevent the spread of diseases over the water system the Chinese government issued a law which requires that the water contains at minimum 0.05mg of chlorine per liter. Internationally 0.05 mg/L of chlorine is the maximum.



 Why is there such a big difference in the use of chlorine? That’s because of the different water sources. Many countries use groundwater as their primary water source for tap water. But that isn’t the case for China. For Shanghai, the primary source of water is the surface water of the Yangtze river. Surface water naturally contains more pollutants compared to groundwater because it does not undergo any natural filtration like passing through the different rock and earth layers. It contains up to 2000 different pollutants and can be a breading place for germs and bacteria. Therefore, the water plants put chlorine into the water to kill the bacteria and viruses that accumulate in the water.


The chlorine level in your tap water is not the same all over in Shanghai. It depends on various factors such as time of day, the weather, proximity to the water treatment plants, the age of your building even the floor in a building where you get your water can make a difference.

But what kind of effects can chlorine have on your body? Well, if you have been to a swimming pool before maybe you have experienced them. If you did not wear any swimming goggles your eyes will be red and itchy. If you have dyed hair the colour could start fading and after your shower you would realize that your hair is brittle. It is the same for the water in Shanghai. But long-term exposure to chlorine can lead to people to have sensitive skin, even hair loss and skin problems such as eczema or worst case scenario: skin diseases.




Pesticides, Colour and Smell


Pesticides are used to tend to crops and prevent insects from feeding on them or the spread of weeds. There are many ways in which it can infect the water, one of the main being the rain. Compared to groundwater pesticides can be found in larger quantities in surface water, because they can enter directly the source instead of passing through many earth layers. Even though there is no specific knowledge on what kind of impact the consumption of different pesticides has, it is known for sure that large consumption is harmful to the human body.

Colour and smell of the water may not do any direct harm to health and body but can in some cases still lead to nausea because of the nastyodour.






So, these are the pollutants which are generally found in the tap water of Shanghai when a water purifier isn’t installed.Greenwave was founded to give people living in China the option of not having to encounter these pollutants and risk their health, whether from drinking them directly, showering in them to washing your clothes or food in them. Greenwave has specially catered products for every aspect of daily life.

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