Maverick Citizen

BOIL BEFORE DRINKING

Revealed test results show Nelson Mandela Bay turned a blind eye to dodgy water quality

Revealed test results show Nelson Mandela Bay turned a blind eye to dodgy water quality
Results of water tests in Nelson Mandela Bay during January 2022 have shown that sampling points across the metro were failing safety standards. (Photo:Deon Ferreira)

Tests on Nelson Mandela Bay’s water supply since January showed that the quality fell short of safety standards — yet it took almost two months for the metro to warn residents.

Microbiological tests performed on Nelson Mandela Bay’s water in January and February saw samples fall short of safety standards, sometimes repeatedly.

E.coli was identified as being present, indicating that it was contaminated by faecal matter. However, the public was only officially warned at the end of February that the metro’s drinking water was unsafe.

During the first two months of the year, anecdotal evidence from doctors and pharmacists indicated that many people in the metro were seeking help with diarrhoea and gastro-like illness.

It was only on 21 February that people were warned to boil their water before drinking it.

“The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality would like to inform residents that the latest tests have shown a deterioration in our water quality. The current drought facing the City, with the resultant low dam levels and fluctuating reservoir levels, is one of the major contributing factors,” a warning issued by the council on 21 February read.

It was later found that the temporary Grassridge Water Treatment Plant, an interim drought measure, was the source of the contamination. The metro indicated last week that cleaning of the facility was under way. 

On 21 February, water test results showed samples taken at eight points throughout the metro failed safety standards. With retesting, seven of these samples failed again. E. coli was found in six samples.

According to safe drinking water standards, the total coliforms in water (an indication of pollution with faecal matter) should be less than 10 per 100ml. On this day, 30 sampling points exceeded this limit, with many testing over 200 coliforms per 100ml.

“These results came against earlier results that certified our water as safe to drink. This then means that, for now, the water coming out of our distribution system could present a risk to human health if ingested. The municipality urges all consumers to boil their water before drinking or cooking, until further notice,” the warning continued.

Minutes of a public health meeting held last week showed that the water quality in the metro had begun to deteriorate between October and December 2021, with many testing sites not complying with drinking water safety standards. The new test results showed that water samples also failed safety tests in January and February 2022.

Mayor Eugene Johnson’s spokesperson, Tango Lamani, said that to access the results of water tests, people could apply in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act. 

After a successful application, the water results were supplied to Daily Maverick on Monday.

These results — one for chemical analysis and one for microbial analysis — show that the city’s water quality failed at several points during January, resulting in reports that the water was not safe to drink — yet no public warning was issued. 

In the first week of January, tests on several samples indicated that there had been possible faecal contamination of water in the network. Initially, 10 water samples did not comply with safety standards and, after retesting, four were flagged as having failed again.

Micro 07 January 2022 (1)

 

Results for 10 to 12 January found that 18 samples taken around the city did not comply. Of these samples, 17 were retested and 10 failed the safety test. 

Micro 21 January 22 (1)

 

Micro 28 January 2022 (1)

 

Between 31 January and 2 February, E. coli was found in water in Despatch, with four places testing for total coliforms exceeding 200. Fifteen samples did not comply with safety standards and, on resampling, 11 still did not comply. 

Between 7 and 9 February, a massive amount of E. coli contamination was found in water in Colchester, where there was an outbreak of diarrhoeal disease among children at a crèche. 

An even larger amount was found at the testing point near the Riviera swimming pool in Malabar and at the municipal depot in Harrower Road. Large amounts of E.coli were also found at the sampling point of the Seaview police station. Seventeen samples did not comply with safety standards, 12 were retested and 50% of these did not comply with safety prescriptions.

The council has denied that the death of a child and the hospitalisation of two others, all from Kariega (formerly Uitenhage), could be linked to the municipal water supply.

In the second week of February, E. coli was still detected in samples from Zwide, Soweto-on-Sea clinic and Despatch, among other areas, and 21 water samples did not comply with safety standards. After retesting, 14 were found to be unsafe.

Micro 11 February 2022 (1)

 

Micro 21 February 2022 (1)

 

Micro 25 February 2022

 

Dries van der Westhuyzen, ward councillor and Democratic Alliance spokesperson on water in the metro, said they raised the issue of badly discoloured water with officials from the beginning of January.

Then, on 25 January, the metro issued a statement saying: “We are aware of numerous reports of discoloured water across the Metro. Mineral deposits build up inside water infrastructure over time and when flow rates change, such as caused by pipe bursts or reservoir emptying, this build-up can be dislodged, causing discolouration… 

“The quality of potable water supply is regularly monitored, and all tap water has been disinfected to ensure that it is safe to drink. Should your water discolouration be of concern, we suggest that you boil it for drinking purposes.” 

On 28 January, 11 samples failed to meet safety standards. Another 10 were retested and only two passed the second time. 

Lamani said the mayor [the ANC’s Eugene Johnson] was unaware of the seriousness of the water problems before 21 February.

“She immediately instituted an internal investigation into the matter. The investigation is still continuing and if the outcome points to human error on the side of management, consequence management will be followed,” he added

Following the warnings against drinking tap water, test results remained dismal. Van der Westhuyzen said the test results for January were the worst he had seen since 2016.

“We were not even fighting with them in January. We only wanted to talk about the colour of the water,” he said. 

“It is a pity that they have been fighting us since then, because they could have alerted people to the problem much earlier.” DM/MC

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • PK Smith says:

    So what’s new?

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    Lamani said the mayor [the ANC’s Eugene Johnson] was unaware of the seriousness of the water problems before 21 February.

    “She immediately instituted an internal investigation into the matter. The investigation is still continuing and if the outcome points to human error on the side of management, consequence management will be followed,” he added

    The politicians know in a month something else will occupy public & media attention & no action will be necessary for especially their bedfellows. DM can we follow up in monthly performance outcome report with photo’s of the persons who make promises?

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