Ministry of Health Says Don’t Drink That Brown Water
On Monday, Belize Water Services Limited held a press conference to address the issue of discolored water that's coming out of some household and office pipes in Belize City.
The company said that it's the product of iron in the water - which, while unsightly, is harmless. It's the product - BWS says - of iron running off into the Belize River - which is the company's main water source. Despite the build-up caused by the heavy rains in mid-October, BWS said the water is safe to drink, and to bathe and wash with - although it could stain white clothes.
But today, the Ministry of Health's water inspector said, don't drink the brown water:
Anthony Flowers, WATER ANALYST, MOH
"The results from the brown water, or discolored water, indicated to us that the water quality does not meet World Health Organization guidelines for drinking water, meaning that it is not suitable for drinking."
"We had one particular parameter that we found that was not within the acceptable range. That was turbidity. The turbidity of the water basically looked at how clear the water is, and when we did our test we found that the turbidity in that particular sample that we tested, it was twice the accepted value. And hence we would not deem that water suitable for drinking."
"When the water clears up, the samples that we did on those, it was acceptable."
"So your advice to those in the public right now would be - don't drink the water right now?"
"Yes, in terms of the brown water as it comes out of the tap, I would advise people not to consume that for drinking."
"Speak if you can about the safety to wash your dishes; wash your clothes and to bathe yourself or young ones, infants in particular, newborns."
"Yeah, ahm, in terms of that water in its state as I said it's not suitable for drinking. In terms of other domestic use, like washing ahm 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 as I said when the water has that increased turbidity, you 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."
"The CEO of BWSL basically said in his interview that this water is good to drink. From a Ministry Of Health standpoint, your comments?"
"Well, as I said from the Ministry of Health standpoint we are not deeming the brown water to be suitable for drinking."
"So his comments were basically erroneous?"
"Well I didn't listen to Mr. Haynes comments totally, but I can just say from our standpoint, that is the, that is our viewpoint that the brown water is not safe based on the fact that you have increased levels of iron and turbidity."
"Sir but is it not a concern of the ministry that BWS was essentially putting people's health at risk by saying yes drink the water, use the water to cook and everything. Isn't that a concern of the ministry?"
"The Ministry of Health is concern about the safety of drink the water. That is our mission, in terms of our lab here and so we are now setting the record straight in terms of the quality of that water letting the public know this is the fact that that water should not be consume for drinking."
Responding to those comments this evening, BWS CEO Alvan Haynes stressed that his company never said that discolored water is safe to drink. They said that if the water appears dirty, run it until it's clear and then that clear water is safe to drink. He stressed that even though the water may still have higher than usual iron content - it has no ill effect on consumers.
And while BWS is sure that the iron is coming form runoff on the river banks - Flowers said he's not that store yet:
"We have been out in the fields 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 fields for two days, looking at the river, the raw water source because as we know for Belize City - the source is the Belize River where they have their abstraction 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 iron, increased iron is coming from the raw water itself, or it's some other operational parameter within the system."
"I cannot at this time say yes that at the end of the week the issue will be resolved because 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 that will help in terms of looking at the solution."
"But are they jumping to conclusions in saying that it's just iron running off from the soil and that it will be resolve in a week. Are those premature conclusions, sir?"
"I cannot speak on behalf of BWS."
"From your assessment?"
"That's what I am saying from our viewpoint in terms of the water quality lab for the ministry, we have done tests, we reported to you what we've found and we are saying that until we find out what is the cause of this then we can look to see what measures that are needed to put in place by the company at the treatment plant if it's some operational issue and when that happens then we move on. But I cannot speak to you in terms of BWS."
Flowers says they collected samples on Monday which were not brown - and it passed the test for safe consumption. BWS says that complaints have been coming into there officer but far fewer than last week - so the water seems to be working its way out of the system. But, there could be more ahead. BWS is expecting another wave of flood waters coming from downstream which will arrive at their Double Run plant in a few days. By then, a new system should be in place which will isolate the iron and stop it from reacting in the water supply. And, finally, with this whole water discoloration thing, we stress that - for unknown reasons - it does not appear in every home.