Human bodies are made up of around 75% water. Health experts say we should drink between 2 and 5 litres of water per day but just how safe is the water you’re drinking?
Harare Residents Trust recently said, “The Harare City Council has proven beyond doubt that it lacks the capacity to deliver clean and safe water to the citizens.” Water from your tap, if you’re lucky enough to get council water, can contain chemicals like nitrates, chlorine, mercury, lead, arsenic and fluoride in unsafe quantities. Studies have suggested that these chemicals can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, liver and kidney cancers and a host of other serious illnesses. The water can also contain harmful bacteria that cause illnesses like typhoid and cholera, as we saw in outbreaks of 2008–2009.
So should we all be drinking bottled water? Well, for one thing it’s expensive and for another thing you can’t be sure where the water comes from or how it’s been treated. Bottled water is extremely unfriendly to the environment. Plastic water bottles are causing a major litter problem in the city and there are other hidden factors to consider too. These bottles should not be recycled to make new water bottles – only virgin plastic should be used to hold water for human consumption, so it’s a very wasteful product. Then you should consider the amount of fuel used to transport this heavy product to shops and supermarkets. On top of that you are potentially exposed to the chemicals like BPA – Bisphenol A (linked to a host of serious health problems including learning and behavioural problems, altered immune system function, prostate and breast cancer, diabetes and obesity) and Phthalates (linked to a wide range of problems including reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy or structural abnormality and liver cancer).
Even if you’re lucky enough to have a borehole, you can’t automatically assume that your water is safe. Last year Harare City Council Director of Health Services, Prosper Chonzi said 33% of the 254 council boreholes in the city were contaminated with faecal matter. Borehole water can also contain nitrates, manganese and other heavy metals.
There are a couple of ways to make your water safer. Boiling water to kill bacteria and other microorganisms has been practiced for centuries. Boiling water will kill off most but not all of these, however it does not remove them from the water. If the water contains sediments, heavy metals, harmful chemicals or other pollutants it actually increases the concentration of these toxins as the pure water is boiled off as steam. It is, however, the absolute minimum you should do to make your water safer and it’s a fairly inexpensive and simple method.
During the typhoid and cholera scare chemical water purifying tablets like Waterguard were freely and cheaply available in most pharmacies and even supermarkets. At that time the supply was largely subsidised by the World Health Organisation so it was easily affordable. It was meant to be an immediate and short term solution to the problem. However the main component of products like Waterguard is chlorine. According to the US Council of Environmental Quality, “The cancer risk to people who drink chlorinated water is 93% higher than those who don’t.”
If you really want to set your mind at rest and safeguard your family’s health, you should take a sample of your water to a reputable company like Aqua Angels (2 Victoria Drive, Newlands: tel. 776617). They’ll test your water and advise you on the best solution for your needs. They will probably suggest a charcoal filtration system at the point of entry – where the water comes into your house. This is a very effective and relatively inexpensive way to clean the water for the whole household, whether it’s council water or water from your borehole. It will remove impurities like toxic chemicals as well as some bacteria. They might then recommend an additional UV filter specifically for your drinking water.
There are table top water filter systems available – for instance the Berkey range – which removes both bacteria and chemicals. They look something like a large urn (various sizes available) and best of all they’re portable and don’t require electricity to operate. This is a great solution to provide clean drinking water for a small family and you can take it with you wherever you go. It can be used with council water, borehole water or even water from a dam or river.
Reverse osmosis is probably the most effective system to ensure that you’re drinking nothing but pure H2O, but it is quite expensive to install and it is reliant on a power supply, whether electricity, solar or inverter.
Photo: Graham van de Ruit