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River turns white from pollution in China

Reuters

A polluted stream which has turned white in Dongchuan district of Kunming, Yunnan province, March 20. According to local media, the source of the pollution is waste water discharged by nearby mining industries.

Reuters

Farmers dig ditches from a white polluted stream to farm fields for irrigation in Dongchuan district of Kunming, Yunnan province, March 21.

Reuters

A villager carries buckets of water to be used for drinking from a white polluted stream in Dongchuan district of Kunming, Yunnan province, March 20.

Reuters

A villager holds two bottles of water, one from the polluted stream, left, and the other normal mineral water, in Dongchuan district of Kunming, Yunnan province, March 21.

Locals began calling the river, 'milk river' after runoff from a nearby mine turned the water white. It is their only source of drinking water and farmers use it to irrigate their fields.

Pollution problems are growing in China. Smog in Beijing, captured in pictures and heavily reported, caught the world’s attention. Outdoor air pollution is now the fourth leading risk factor for deaths in the country, according to a report in The New York Times. But polluted water is another problem. In March, thousands of dead pigs were found floating in a Shanghai river, the main source of water for the city’s residents. Tainted waterways have been linked to higher cancer rates in people living nearby. Rivers filled with algae, garbage or turned unnatural colors by factory runoff and chemical spills are still being used by farmers, fisherman and for drinking water. 

An official newspaper reported that China will spend 100 billion yuan ($16 billion dollars) over three years to deal with Beijing’s pollution. But will they address the water issue? 

Editor's note: The pictures were taken on March 20-21, but made available to NBC News today.