JIS News

Story Highlights

  • As the 2004 hurricane season progresses, the Ministry of Health is advising persons who store water for domestic use, to ensure that supplies are safe for drinking and preparing food.
  • The caution is especially directed at residents of the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Manchester, who experienced flooding during the recent passing of Hurricane Charley.
  • The Ministry's Environmental Health Unit is in the process of evaluating the water supplies in these areas and residents who require further information should get in touch with their parish health departments.

As the 2004 hurricane season progresses, the Ministry of Health is advising persons who store water for domestic use, to ensure that supplies are safe for drinking and preparing food.

The caution is especially directed at residents of the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Manchester, who experienced flooding during the recent passing of Hurricane Charley.

The Ministry’s Environmental Health Unit is in the process of evaluating the water supplies in these areas and residents who require further information should get in touch with their parish health departments.

Payton Knight, Director of the Unit, tells JIS News that unsafe water is one of the vehicles for a number of dangerous diseases and illnesses including typhoid, cholera, and gastroenteritis.

Mr. Knight notes that although the relevant state agencies have put measures in place to ensure that water sources and waterways are not contaminated, natural occurrences such as hurricanes may lead to disruption in supplies and citizens must take precautions.

He says that there are simple measures that consumers can take at home to make sure that their water is safe for drinking, washing fruits and vegetables and cooking. Two of the most used and effective measures are boiling and using chlorine bleach to purify the water.

“What we recommend is for you to allow the water to boil for at least five minutes before removing it from the fire. Then you will have to cover that water and leave it to cool,” he says.

Another way to make the water safe is by adding bleach. “To one litre or one quart of water add two drops of bleach. For five litres or one US (United States) gallon of water you should add eight drops of bleach and for 20 litres add half teaspoon of bleach. For 170 litres or 45 US gallon of water add four and a half teaspoons of bleach,” he explains.

To measure each drop, first pour the bleach into the cap and then slowly allow it to drip into the water. Mr. Knight advises that a clean instrument should be use to properly mix the bleach and water together. Bleach with three or five per cent chlorine levels should be used as lower concentrations will not be adequate to treat the water.

Having done that, the water should be left for a minimum of 30 minutes to ensure that the treatment process is properly completed. Mr. Knight stresses that water taken from trucks, springs, rivers, community tanks and drums and catchments, must be treated before being used, even for making ice.

He emphasizes that in general, the island’s water providers have held to the standards for treatment that are set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The problem of inadequate treatment arises in instances where smaller water supplies are managed by community organisations and in these cases, Mr. Knight assures, the Unit’s monitoring and surveillance systems are usually intensified.

He notes that although consumers can be confident in the safety of the supplies they receive through their pipes, it was the individual’s responsibility to ensure that their water is kept clean “as problems can arise if the water, having been properly treated, is collected, stored in unclean containers, in containers that held dangerous chemicals, or if the water is contaminated by insects and rats”.

He strongly cautions against the use of containers that have previously stored chemicals such as cleaning agents, pesticides and fungicides. “These containers should not be used to store water for drinking,” he warns. Containers for storing water should be properly scrubbed with a good cleaning agent and properly rinsed, with bleach used to sanitize the container.

Mr. Knight further advises that people should not live along waterways (riverbanks, etc) and should not establish commercial activities in these areas. For those who already do, he recommends that garbage and other waste be properly stored for collection and there should be good sanitary conveniences, although a sewage system may pose a threat to the water supply if it is located in an area that will allow the contaminated water to seep into the waterway. He also warns against washing near waterways, pointing out that if impurities find their way into the water, then treatment can become difficult.

The Environmental Health Unit is responsible for environmental public health issues on behalf of the Ministry. It covers advisory, policy, standards, regulations, and auditing as it relates to environmental health activities.

Mr. Knight informs that ensuring the safety of water supplies is ultimately the responsibility of the provider, whether it is the National Water Commission, private suppliers, or the parish councils. The Ministry has a monitoring programme in place to ensure that the water is safe for human consumption.

“Our monitoring programme is a cyclic and intense one, wherein, the sources of supplies are inspected and monitored and water samples are taken for laboratory analyses. The results of the tests will determine the intervention that we have. . .in general, except for some small pockets, the quality of the water is good,” he assures.