The Ministry of Health (MOH) has stepped in to clarify statements made by Belize Water Services (BWS) concerning the discoloured water residents have been noticing from their taps. While on Monday, BWS assured the public that the water was perfectly safe to drink as well as to cook and shower with, MOH’s water analyst, Anthony Flowers, stated otherwise. He advised Belizeans to run the water until it is clear before using it. Flowers explained why MOH has deemed the water unsafe.
Anthony Flowers, Water Analyst, Ministry of Health: “‘We have done testing of the discolored water, we got samples of that, as well as we did some sampling this week again of the water after it has been flushed in terms of ‘clear’. The results from the brown water or the discolored water indicated to us that the water quality does not meet the Word Health Organization guidelines for drinking water meaning that it’s not suitable for drinking essentially because when we do the testing of drinking water we look at different parameters, bacteriological and some what we call physical chemical parameters and if any of these parameters are outside the normal values set by the World Health Organization guidelines for drinking water then we would deem that water not suitable for drinking. And so in this case the discolored water we had one particular parameter that we found that was not within the acceptable range and that was turbidity. The turbidity of the water is basically looking at how clear the water is and when we did our tests we found that the turbidity in that particular sample that we tested it was twice the accepted value hence we would not deem that water suitable for drinking. From the bacteriological standpoint we didn’t have an issue with the bacteriological quality of the water but I do know yes that increased iron in drinking water can lead to a rise in what we call iron bacteria and that would proliferate and cause the water to even take on more of that reddish brown color. In terms of other domestic use like washing particularly white clothes it will not be suitable for that and as well looking at bathing you also have to look at that as well because like I said when the water has that increased turbidity we do not know what all are the particles in it and so you would want to allow that to settle out or something before using the clearer portion to bathe with for example.”
According to Flowers, in order to meet standards set by the World Health Organization, the level of the turbidity must be below 5. BWS also claimed that the discoloured water was an issue that would not last much longer, and that there was a simple fix to the problem. Flowers stated that they actually do not know what is causing the water to look brown and, because of that, they cannot solve the issue so easily.
Anthony Flowers, Water Analyst, Ministry of Health: “Our work with BWS actually for the past two days we have been out in the field along the Belize River at different points because we are still not able to ascertain what exactly is causing this and so we were out in the field for two days looking at the river, the raw water source, because as you know for Belize City the source is the Belize River where they have the extraction point there at Double Run and so we have been out with them collecting samples. We are now processing those samples to see if this increased iron is coming from the raw water itself or if it’s some other operational parameters within the system. I cannot at this time say yes that by the end of the week the issue will be resolved because as I said if we don’t know what exactly is the cause then it’s kind of difficult to put a firm date in terms of resolution of it. When we know then then that will help us in terms of looking at the solution. One possible thing that they can do is add a chemical called “Sequest” that will put the iron in solution, it doesn’t remove it but it puts it in solution and we will be monitoring more. So we will continue to do that monitoring until we can resolve this issue.”
Just before news time this evening, the chief executive officer of BWS, Alvan Haynes, called our newsroom to claim that his statements are actually in line with MOH’s. According to him, BWS never said the water was safe to drink as it is, but that it needs to be run clear before using. In their press release, it states, quote, “BWS confirms that the water remains safe to drink. However, customers who experience discolouration are advised to run off the water before doing activities such as laundry.” End quote. MOH continues to work with BWS in order to find a solution to the problem and promises to keep the public updated.