How safe is PMB’s water?

2008-10-06 00:00

When a doctor at a Pietermaritzburg 24-hour medical facility started treating a higher than usual number of gastro-enteritis cases recently, she concluded that the city’s drinking water had caused the outbreak.

Umgeni Water and the Msunduzi Municipality have sprung to the defence of the water coming out of the city’s taps and have labelled the doctor an alarmist.

However, a reader who sent in pictures taken last weekend of a pumping station above Wylie Park says the state of the facility and reservoirs around the city hardly inspire residents’ confidence that all is being done to protect the city’s water and keep it uncontaminated.

Msunduzi Municipality senior manager Phil Mashoko said the quality of water supplied to residents far exceeds the minimum standards stipulated by the SA Bureau of Standards’ 241 specifications for drinking water.

“The water from our reservoirs is tested ( fortnightly) using both physical and chemical tests to monitor the quality.”

According to Mashoko, if the gastroenteritis were water-related, all residents supplied from the same pipeline would have been affected.

He urged families who have been affected to check their internal reticulation for any possible points of contamination. He added that gastroenteritis is caused by various germs, which makes it difficult to conclude that the affected people got the infection from water without exploring all other possibilities.

“In any case, if the contamination is through the reservoir, the spread of the problem will be systematic and traceable back to the reservoir. If you compare the quality of our water with other big municipalities, our quality is commendable,” he said.

However, to be certain, the municipality has taken samples of water around the city. These have been set to a laboratory for testing and the results are expected this week.

On the state of the city’s reservoirs, Mashoko said they are well secured. “We have recently completed a project to re-roof some of our reservoirs.”

The covers shown to be missing or dislodged on the photographs are not for reservoirs, but for break pressure valves, and will be replaced and secured as part of the annual maintenance programme. There is limited danger posed by these covers to the quality of water.

Mashoko said the municipality is currently installing fencing at most water-related, electricity and sewerage facilities.

“Our water and sanitation sub-unit, through its annual maintenance plans, is fencing pump stations, securing, painting and replacing covers to our valve boxes which, in some instances, have been stolen. The programme has since started. We also have a programme of cleaning our reservoirs on a regular basis to avoid build-up of undesirable substances.”

Shami Harichunder, corporate stakeholder manager for Umgeni Water, which supplies bulk water to the Msunduzi Municipality, said there are a number of legislative acts and national standards that govern the protection of a city’s water supply.

“We work closely with the municipality and make sure that we are all compliant with all legislation and standards. There is no way we would compromise public health,” he said.

Other city doctors contacted were cautious about pronouncing on whether they believed the incidence of gastro-enteritis in the city had increased.

KZN Health Department spokesman Leon Mbangwa said the department has not been made aware of any outbreak. He stressed that medical practitioners have a social responsibility to protect the health and the well-being of citizens and if they suspect that there are public health problems, such as outbreaks of certain illnesses, they must contact the provincial or local health authorities immediately.

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