Opinions Wed, 20 Feb 2013

Expired Ghana urban water chemical saga

: public health concern is far-fetched

By Justice Lee Adoboe

The public health concern raised by certain media outlets in the Ghana Urban Water Company (GUWC) expired Aluminum Sulfate saga (Alum) was far-fetched and based on a wrong assumption.

The GUWC came out to declared here on Tuesday that water being delivered to the urban consumers was wholesome at the PH level set by the World Health Organization 9WHO) and the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA).

The company came under a barrage of accusations of endangering the lives of urban water consumers for using expired Aluminum Sulfate or Alum in treating water for human consumption.

However speaking on local Joy fm radio station, Communications Director of the company, Stanley Martey assured the public that the expired Alum had not been used in treating water for public consumption.

He continued that the National Security had been called in to assist in clearing the expired chemicals from the company’s warehouse and retrieve investments made into them.

The chemicals which were said to have been procured from China allegedly bore the expiry date of June 2012, raising concerns that the quality of water being delivered to the public might not be wholesome after all, causing the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) to have taken launched investigations into the matter.

It must however be made clear to the general public that the public health concern being raised by certain media outlets was based on a wrong premise: that the chemical Alum was the main material used in purifying water to make it wholesome for consumption.

Alum, the chemical in question is only used at the elementary stage of water treatment to coagulate raw water drawn from the intake. In this process alum is introduced into the raw water in the clarifier to remove physical impurities from the water.

This chemical coagulation and flocculation process which allows grouping particles together into flocs of a bigger size also changes the colour of the water, from its green or brown state into plain water.

After this process, the water is taken through secondary processes including slow sand and stone treatment to filter out other physical impurities.

At all these stages, bacteria and other living organisms remain in the water, therefore needing something else to remove them.

The process adopted by the Ghana Urban Water Company c to eliminate the living organisms and water-borne diseases from its water before distribution is termed chlorination.

“Chlorination is the process of adding the element chlorine to water as a method of water purification to make it fit for human consumption as drinking water. Water which has been treated with chlorine is effective in preventing the spread of waterborne disease,” explained an independent biochemist.

This means that the alum only takes care of the physical impurities, while chlorination deals with the bacteria that are alive in the water.

A visit to the Weija treatment plant reveals that the company itself has a fully equipped laboratory where the final product is tested to determine its PH level, which according to Martey is higher than the WHO and GSA prescribed level.

Usually, as one of the biochemists at the water company explained, residual chlorine is available in the water pumped from their treatment plants to take care of any incidental infections which might occur during distribution as a result of broken pipes.

“This residual chlorine is what makes the water look a bit whitish when drawn from the pipes, and this is safe for consumption,” he stressed.

Meanwhile it must be observed the water company’s emphatic response that it had not used the expired chemical to produce water is supported by facts.

Water not treated by the right alum would still have the physical impurities present, including its green or brown colour. However, the water received by residents of Accra and other urban areas is so plain, to show that the right type of alum has been used in its coagulation and flocculation

It must therefore be emphasized that:

1. Chlorine, not alum is used as to treat water too rid it of all bacteria and other water-borne diseases to make it wholesome for human consumption.

2. GUWCL has given the assurance that it has not used the expired alum in its primary process of coagulation and flocculation in water production. This can be ascertained by the consumer by checking the colour of the water flowing through their pipes. If it is plain, then it means the alum has done its job.

3. Residual chlorine is allowed in the final product (water) to take care of any incidental infection along the line of distribution.

The unsuspecting urban consumer therefore needs to be rest-assured that their water is safe and wholesome for consumption.

Columnist: Adoboe, Justice Lee