Authorities have closed schools in two towns in China after industrial waste contaminated the water supply for 200,000 residents, officials and state media said Tuesday.
Locals in the towns of Pingyao and Liangzhu in the eastern province of Zhejiang have complained their tap water has a strange taste and smell, an official from the local environmental protection bureau surnamed Shen told AFP.
Shen said the cause of the smell was under investigation, but the official Xinhua news agency said factories at a nearby industrial park had leaked waste into the Shaoxi River, which is the source of the drinking water supply.
The waste includes benzene, which can cause vomiting, stomach irritation, dizziness, convulsions, a rapid heart rate and even death, according to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a government body.
The factories have been told to stop discharging the waste, the report said.
"The water quality still meets national standards, but for safety reasons, we advise residents not to drink it, although they can still use it," said Shen, deputy head of the bureau in Yuhang district, which oversees the towns.
An official at the Yuhang education bureau told AFP that schools in Pingyao and Liangzhu had been closed due to the pollution.
China the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter has some of the globe's worst air and water quality after more than three decades of unrestrained growth and resulting pollution.
Major poisoning incidents linked to pollution have repeatedly occurred over the years, causing concern among residents worried about the overall impact on their health.
This is the second environmental incident to hit Zhejiang in the past few days after a truck accident Saturday resulted in a chemical leak into a river that provides many parts of the province with water.
The truck was carrying phenol used in the manufacture of nylon and other synthetic fibres when it broke down, the Hangzhou Daily newspaper reported.
As it was being repaired, another truck crashed into it, breaking the chemical tank and causing 20 tonnes of the chemical to seep into the nearby Xinan River, said the report posted on the Hangzhou government website.
One repairman was killed in the accident, it added.
Worried residents in Hangzhou, the provincial capital, rushed to buy bottled water, the Hangzhou Daily said in a separate report.
But Zheng Binghui, a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Sciences at the scene, tried to ease public concerns, saying tests had revealed the water quality was still up to standard, it added.