Colombo Telegraph

Drinking Water; Trigger A Slow, Tortuous & Spectacular Demise

By K. Arulananthan –

Dr. K. Arulananthan

Wellawatte : Moving to a new apartments at the third floor, as usual drawn water from kitchen tap and boiled before drinking. On the second day, all who shared the same water had complained severe thoracic pain. Later, came to know that the tap water is drawn from a tube well water and distributed among the unsuspicious residence without any purification.

Rathupaswala : A fast growing town, surrounded by paddy fields, is located at about 25 km from Colombo. Water is drawn from open duck well for drinking. A colleague of mine, who lives in Rathupaswala, drawn water from a well at her home and tested at the laboratory, where she works, found that the pH remained in between 2 and 3 – Acidic (pH less than 7 are said to be acidic).

Now the residents at Rathupaswala are provided with public water system (pipe borne water), thanks for the mass struggle, which ended with deaths, injuries and damage to property. Still, no one knows what caused the acidity to the well water, a factory or geology of the soil or both! (Rathu –RED, paswala -SOIL)

Mahaweli Upper Catchment : Under the project “Managing Agro-chemical Multiuse Aquatic Systems (MAMAS)”, water samples were drawn from upper catchment of Mahaweli River by one my collogue for testing agrochemical pollution. The samples were given to be tested for pesticide at the institute, which constituted the expert team to examine the severity of the oil contamination with ground water at Chunnakam. The institute reported that the pesticide content is “not detectable” (negligible or nil) in all water samples. My colleague told me that, suspecting the result, he injected pesticide into the sample and handed over to the same institute for testing. Still the test report from the institute indicated that the pesticide content is at not detectable level!

Systematic Monitoring of water quality is the first step to assure safe drinking water. – Photo courtesy Amantha Perera

Coastal waters: A recent coastal water quality monitoring results revealed that Escherichia coli, a bacteria associated with fecal matter and cause for water borne disease far exceed the accepted limit (The widely accepted limit is 500 cfu/100 ml).The cause is identified as the municipal raw sewage, discharged at about 2 km into the sea from coastline in Colombo, in other areas it is discharged at the coast line itself. One of my colleagues, an on looker of the presentation of the monitoring result told me that “it seems taking a swim at our coastal waters is like swimming in a septic tank!”

Padavi-Sripura : CKDu, Chronic Kidney Disease, where “u” stands for unknown or uncertain etiology, was first reported in 1994. After two decades, it is at an epidemic scale, affecting more than 50,000, further spreading into Northern, Eastern, North Western, Central, and Uva provinces. I remember, it was earlier told that cooking in an aluminum vessel could be the potential cause for the CKD, recently it is reported that the potential cause could be the drinking water contaminated with pesticides. Still no one seems to know the cause!.

Chunnakam : In January 2015, it is reported that the Northern Provincial Council has appointed a team of specialists to investigate the contamination of ground water from Chunnakam Power Station. There are other reports indicated that that two separate teams from the Power and Energy Ministry and the Disaster Management Ministry would assess the ground situation and concern would be addressed within two weeks and also reported that an independent committee consisting of officials from the ministry and the Central Environmental Authority to study the oil contamination problem (Sundaytimes-25.01.2015).

The most common and deadly pollutants in the drinking water are of biological origin (pathogenic bacteria, viruses and protozoa) and chemical contaminants, which include naturally occurring constituents (Arsenic, Barium, Boron, etc ), synthetic pollutants (Cadmium, Mercury, etc ), organic pollutants (Benzene, Carbon tetrachloride, etc.) Sri Lanka Standards Institute published “Tolerance limits for inland surface waters used as raw water for public water supply (SLS 722)”, which include, if not all the biological and chemical containments, at least for most of them. Is the drinking water within the tolerance limit? No one seems to know!

Secure an efficient and effective monitoring, assessment and enforcement is critical to ensure safe drinking water. Ceylon Environmental Authority is mandated to undertake surveys and investigations as to the causes, nature, extent and prevention of pollution and undertake investigations and inspections to ensure compliance in inland waters.

Systematic Monitoring of water quality is the first step to assure safe drinking water. Though, discrete monitoring is reported, in my limited search, I haven’t come across any systematic continuous monitoring. It looks that we do not have capacity to monitor all the health hazardous chemical contaminants. Even, the instruments available seem to be not in desirable working condition, due to lack of qualified and trained personals and lack of knowledge in calibration of instruments. Thus, as of today, we may never know the quality of water and continue to drink with deadly pollutants.

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