Many of the attendees at the water forum were frustrated that there were no clear cut answers as to whether Grahamstown’s water is safe to drink.
Even though there was a consultant panel of scientists and what Rhodes Vice- Chancellor Dr Saleem Badat called, “a wealth of expertise” among the audience, a conclusionon whether we could safely drink the water was not reached.
Although we rely on science to yield answers, science doesn’t often give a straight forward solution. To start with scientists have conflicting views on how to test water. As Prof Nelson Torto, analytical chemist, said: “I don’t trust tests done by anyone else”.
It appears the reason why there is a discrepancy between tests is that they are used to test for different conditions. Torto is interested in testing the qualitative aspect of how many metals and plastics are present in water.
He said systematic tests need to be conducted to see whether the quantity of substances in the water affects the quality. He noted that in testing, one has to consider such things as whether the container that was used to transport the water sample to the laboratory was previously filled with a substance which would alter the test results.
Torto and his colleagues conducted their own test of the water. They took samples of water from 16 different points in Grahamstown and, Torto said, “from this preliminary test I can confirm that yes, aluminium levels are as high as they have been reported”.
However, he was quick to add, “this does not confirm the official status of the water in Grahamstown. Someone needs to do a systematic analysis”.
He said tests need to be done on the “three phases” of water supply – water from homes, as it comes out of the pipes and before it passes through the water purifying plant.
Dean of Science Prof Ric Bernard said what needs to be considered is “how we interpret what Torto’s numbers mean”.
What we have to question is whether the substances that are in the water are going to impact on our health.
Head of Biotechnology Dr Janice Limson’s research is concerned with how trace metals interact with the human body and how we can protect our bodies from any toxic effect they may exert.
She is concerned with the free radical effects of some of the metals found in our water. “These metals attack our body’s ability to protect itself from free radicals in two ways.
One, they create free radicals and two, they bind to and attack the proteins, hormones and vitamins which are protecting us from the free radilike public water supply are priorities have been slowly eroded since the 1970s under the weight of urban neoliberalism,” he added.
Many cities have invested billions in World Cup stadia. These as we are seeing are highly speculative investments and part of a more general macro-economic malaise.
He encouraged people to ask questions which go far beyond Grahamstown or playing the blame game. “It is time to reverse the triumph of the politics of image and return to substance and democracy,” he warned,adding that the water crisis offers locals a great opportunity to unite a highly divided town and to reorient our city leaders and the university.
“Let’s use it to educate ourselves that there are no privatised solutions. There is a limit on how much bottled water you can buy or afford”.
cals, so it’s sort of like being hit by a double-decker bus”. She said that free radicals can cause a lot of damage to the body such as unravelling – like an unpicking effect – cell membranes.
“They can cause damage to proteins and molecules in the body, so the damage is pretty serious”. Limson said we have natural protection systems in our bodies to mop up free radicals but when the system is overloaded with abundant free radicals then many diseases come into play such as neurodegeneration, cardiovascular diseases and various cancers.
“My concern with the Grahamstown water is the level of arsenic; there has been confirmation that the arsenic levels are quite high and arsenic does cause neurodegeneration. In many ways we have been complacent because Grahamstown tap water always has high aluminium content and therefore it is okay.
But it’s not okay; arsenic is a known killer”.Dabula Njilo, Makana Director of Technical and Infrastructual Services said: “Our water is safe to drink” adding that one point tests showed an aluminium sulphate level as too high. – Grocott 12 March
Fears that Grahamstown’s tap water may not be safe to drink has cause a stampede at a natural spring on the outskirts of town. Local residents had known about the spring for several years, but only started using and drinking it since they heard the municipal source could be toxic. Although residents are convinced that the spring water is a far healthier option than what come out of the tap, waiting four more than an hour in the queue could become tedious. Dr. Jim Cambrey, of the Kowie Catchment Campaign, said more studies had to be conducted on what impact the increased traffic at the spring was having on a wetland just below. “There was a year-long study done last year that revealed 40% of the water flowing out the pipe was removed over 24 hours – with no impact on the wetland” Certainly with the current traffic, this results may change soon. The Oppidan Press – Rhodes University Student Newspaper asked a few students: “Do you drink the Grahamstown water? And if not, where do you get your water from?” Most answers revealed that students do not drink tapwater, but either buy there water in shops or make use of the spring water. Conclusion? Nobody is sure yet if the water is safe to drink or not, because even though it was confirmed by recent Amatola Water Board tests “that our water is relatively safe to drink”, people are still getting sick from drinking the water. What effect is the increased use of the springwater going to have on the environment? Tests on both these matters are still being conducted and results still awaiting…….