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North China Plain Groundwater: >70% Unfit for Human Touch

26 February 2013 – A new Ministry of Land and Resources survey shows that the North China Plain suffers from severe groundwater pollution with over 70% of overall groundwater quality classified as Grade IV+, in other words, unfit for human touch.

The study conducted by the Institute of Hydro-geology & Environmental Geology at the China Academy of Geological Sciences on the surveyed 144,600km2 of the North China Plain at a sample ratio 1:250,000 and focused on 23,000 km2 at a sample ratio of 1:50,000. The 7,451 groundwater samples collected were tested in the field with seven physical and chemical indicators and further laboratory tests of 27 inorganic chemical indicators and 36 organic chemistry indicators were also conducted. This survey which started` in 2006, is the most comprehensive regional groundwater quality and pollution investigation.

The results showed the following overall groundwater quality:

Groundwater Type

Grades I-III

Grade IV

Grade V









Groundwater pollution is more serious for shallow groundwater in the North China Plain compared to deep groundwater. There was almost no shallow groundwater of Grade I quality and only sporadic existence of groundwater at Grade II-III quality, putting the amount of groundwater at unfit for human touch at 77.8%. Deep groundwater fared only slightly better at 73.55%. Note that the national overall groundwater quality levels per the 2011 State of the Environment Report (MEP) had Grade IV+ groundwater at 55%.

This level of pollution of groundwater is particularly worrying as the North China Plain is one China’s most important agricultural region, producing corn, sorghum, winter wheat, vegetables and cotton. It covers much of Henan, Hebei and Shandong and northern Jiangsu and Anhui provinces. Incidentally, Shandong, Henan Jiangsu and Hebei are the top four farming provinces of China accounting for around 30% of national agricultural output value.

See Chinese announcement