Officials in central China told residents not to drink the tap water after a chemical spill tainted supplies, reportedly killing one and sickening hundreds.
The spill fouled local water supplies in Chenxi county in Hunan province and caused hundreds of people to seek treatment for apparent poisoning symptoms including paralysis, local hospitals and state media reports said.
A doctor at a Chenxi hospital told AFP by phone on Thursday that at least one person died from drinking poisoned water, reportedly caused by a leak at a chemical plant that seeped into groundwater and local waterways.
An official in the county government told AFP on Friday 65 people had fallen ill, 26 seriously, but denied anyone had died.
"Residents are being told not to drink tap water or take water from the river. The local government is delivering drinking water in trucks," said an official in the government information office who gave only his surname, Cai.
Local hospitals, however, have said hundreds of people were arriving daily complaining of a range of symptoms including nausea and respiratory problems. Hospital staff have said sulfuric acid poisoning was suspected.
The source of the chemical leak has been identified as the Xiaoping chemical plant in the town of Banqiao, state media reports said.
The problem first came to light in early December when residents reported their tap water had turned yellow, the reports said.
The local government subsequently pronounced the area's water safe to drink. But earlier this month, growing numbers of local villagers began to report to hospitals.
As their numbers mounted, the local government began to investigate and found traces of arsenic, tantalum and other dangerous chemicals in local water, reports said.
"The factory suspected in the incident has been shut down by the government," Cai told AFP.
However, he refused further information, saying the cause of the incident was still being investigated and that there have been no arrests.
Chemical spills with serious health consequences are common in China.
In 2005, a massive chemical plant spill into northeastern China's Songhua River resulted in drinking supply cuts affecting millions of residents of Heilongjiang province.