Spit or Swallow?

GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa -- With water gushing out of the tap, why are locals collecting natural spring water and buying bottled water?

According to the Department of Water Affairs website, the Makana Municipality in Grahamstown scores 55.1%. This is below the microbiological and chemical health requirements of 95% and 80% respectively, and shows the need for intervention by the Municipality.

But whether the water is safe for drinking remains questionable.

There are concerns that the water contains high levels of aluminium and arsenic. The presence of these chemicals can cause long-term health effects such as degenerative neurological disorders. Bacteria such as e-coli are also questionable.

According to Professor Denis Hughes, Director of the Institute for Water Research, chemical analyses need to be drawn from water samples each week, and proof needs to be provided.

When asked about Grahamstown’s water, Nikki Kӧhly, the Safety, Health and Environmental Officer for Rhodes University, said, “I think to be able to give an informed answer its essential to have access to regularly updated water quality test results – which I don’t have at the moment. I’m always inclined to say go back to scientific data.”

Kӧhly went on to say, “I don’t know what the current status is. My only word of advice: If you have doubts, get spring water in a re-usable bottle--avoid unnecessary plastic waste--or use filtered rainwater but make sure you put it through a filter system which adds back essential minerals.”

Assistant Director for Water at Makana Local Municipality, Luthando Mashiya said that the water is okay as it complies with the 2011 South African regulations.

But the quality of Grahamstown’s water remains a hot topic.

So is the water safe for drinking?

After all, even at the Institute for Water Research there are 5-litre bottles of water next to every kettle.


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