Risking one’s life by drinking from the tap

For those people, in rural communities or urban areas, drinking water directly from the tap is not such a good idea. This comes as warning from the Public Health Laboratory Services.

“Those who take the tap water are risking their lives. It is best for the people to know, not to drink directly from the tap water and prevent themselves from getting sick, their drinking water should be boiled,” said Deputy Chief Laboratory Officer of Public Health Laboratory Services, Chimmi Dorji. He also adds that the children are more susceptible to water borne infection.

According to the Public Health Laboratory Services, the water treatment system in Bhutan is not at par with the water treating technology available in the developed countries. “We have a lot of short coming in the technology, so it is best that people drink boiled water to keep themselves safe” Chimmi Dorji added.

As for the quality of the water, one must check for the presence of the microbiological contaminants and the chemical contaminants. The impact of microbiological contaminants is immediate, such as diarrhoeal cases, but the impact of chemical contamination can take years or even decades to surface. According to experts, streams and surface runoff water are the main water sources in Thimphu, and therefore, there is no issue of chemical contaminants in the water.

The Thimphu District Municipality (TDM) manages the water supply tanks in Thimphu. The tanks are disinfected with chlorine to kill the microbes present in the water. “Though the water is chlorinated, it cannot be insured how safe it is,” Chimmi Dorji. He said those homes that are far away from the tanks will receive less chlorinated water as the chlorine content diminishes after a certain distance.

He added that during the monsoon season, TDM faces a difficult time in treating the water as the sand filter which is meant to filter out the mud particles cannot do so due to the overload of water. The disinfectants do not work to its full strength in such muddy waters.

Earlier there was a controversy on the presence of lead in the water due to the usage of lead fitting pipes, but as of now, Chimmi Dorji said the water pipes are made of HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) or GI(Galvanized Iron) pipes which is safer, and moreover, there are no lead mines in Bhutan to contaminate the water source.

The chemicals, like arsenic are not found in high altitude places, like Bhutan, but such chemicals are found in the neighboring countries, like India.

On the presence of the pesticides in our water, Chimmi Dorji said in the agricultural areas, like Punakha and Paro, a study is going to be conducted to check the content of pesticides in the water, especially due to agricultural practices that are carried out in the water source area and the use of pesticides in farming.

He said all hospital laboratories are required to monitor drinking water quality in urban areas on the monthly basis, and trained people are deployed across the district hospitals in the country to monitor the water quality in rural areas.

The Public Health Laboratory Services thoroughly monitors the water quality every month in Thimphu, whereas in district hospitals only the indicator bacteria testing is carried out.

An important water testing norm is the testing of pathogens in water by the presence of the indicator fecal coliform bacteria which is found in the feces of warm blooded organisms, like humans and other animals. The normal count is zero, more than that is risky.

Talking on the capacity of the water testing facilities in Bhutan, Chimmi Dorji said there is no specific laboratory to do only water quality testing but the Public Health Laboratory is the focal laboratory in Bhutan and it coordinates with the laboratories in district hospitals.

Chimmi Dorji said the water borne diseases are preventable and the government is putting in much effort to make the water safe for people. He hopes the day comes when water is safe to drink directly from the tap. But until then, he recommends the water that is boiled at 100 degree Celsius is microbiologically safe to drink.

There are two treatment plants in Thimphu, one in Motithang and the second in Jungshina, which supply water to the homes in Thimphu.

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