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Spatial assessment of tap-water safety in China

Abstract

The quality of drinking-water supplies is of fundamental importance to public health and sustainable development. Here, we provide a spatial assessment of the tap-water quality across mainland China. We examine natural and anthropogenic origins of low quality as well as its association with public health risks. By quantifying key indicators, including total organic carbon, ionic conductivity and disinfection by-products (DBPs), we find that precipitation is a crucial factor driving the change of organic matter content and ionic conductivity of tap-water, especially for arid and semi-arid regions. Although the concentration of DBPs is closely related to the organic matter content, the occurrence of highly toxic DBPs is more subject to anthropogenic factors such as economic development and pollution emission. We show that nanofiltration is an effective point-of-use treatment to reduce the adverse effects of DBPs. The present results highlight the potential health hazards associated with low-quality drinking water, suggesting that countries and regions experiencing rapid socioeconomical development might face high levels of DBP toxicity and should consider adoption of sustainability solutions.

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Fig. 1: TOC and ionic conductivity of tap-water.
Fig. 2: Occurrence of DBPs in tap-water samples.
Fig. 3: DBP association with bladder cancer.
Fig. 4: Calculated DBP cytotoxicity.
Fig. 5: Overview of water quality and environmental factors.
Fig. 6: Water-quality improvement by NF.

Data availability

The water-quality data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. All other data supporting the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by the Beijing Natural Science Foundation (no. JQ21032, W.Y.), Key Research and Development Plan of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (no. 2019YFD1100104 and no. 2019YFC1906501, W.Y.).

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Authors

Contributions

W.Y. and M.E. originated the idea and led the research design. M.L. led the data compilation, conducted the analysis and led the write-up of the paper. M.L. and W.W. did the experiment. N.G., R.Z., Y.L., M.E. and W.Y. reviewed the paper, exchanged ideas and prepared the final version of the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Menachem Elimelech or Wenzheng Yu.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Baiyang Chen, Antonio Azara, Xiangru Zhang and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–17, Discussion and Tables 1–7.

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Liu, M., Graham, N., Wang, W. et al. Spatial assessment of tap-water safety in China. Nat Sustain 5, 689–698 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00898-5

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