Mineral water being processed. Photo/File
After a study that found drinking water in the city high on cancer causing metal-lead, researchers have recommended consumption of bottled water.
In a study released on Monday this week, water in Kampala was found to be high on heavy metals especially lead up to 17 to 25 times higher than what is permissible by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the East African standards.
Lead according to the study ranged between 0.017-0.31 in tap water, 0.105-0.412 in ground water fed protected wells and 0.091-0.241 in bottled water against the recommended 0.01 by the WHO.
“Make bottled water available and accessible to all in Kampala,” reads one of the study recommendations.
Michael Bamuwamye, a PhD student and one of the lead researchers for the study explained that bottled water much as it was found to have lead contamination, this was not as high as the other two sources.
“The process through which bottled water goes through is supposed to make it safe and free of such elements as heavy metals and micro-organisms,” he said.
Currently, bottled water of 500g costs on average sh1000. This therefore raises a question of whether the urban poor who live on less than a dollar a day can have this as a priority.
It is estimated that about one million Kampala residents live in slum areas who largely depend on ground water fed protected springs.
“I don’t even have the charcoal to boil the water I draw from the well. How possible is it that I will buy bottled water?” asked a resident of Kiswa in Nakawa division of Kampala.
However with the mushrooming unplanned settlements, researchers fear that more people are being exposed to such toxins as lead.
With fuel stations, washing bays and garages in the middle of residential areas or near water sources, the researchers say this makes water susceptible to contamination.
“Chemicals such as lead are slow poisons. They bio accumulate in the body and its worse for children because these absorb up to 4-5 times more than adults,” he said adding that by the time one gets to the productive age of 30-40, there health is compromised.
Exposure to lead has been found to increase one’s risk of getting cancer. The incidence of cancer in Uganda especially for breast and prostate cancer is said to have increased in the last decade by 3.7% and 5.2% respectively, annually.
However the Manager Testing at the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), Deus Mubangizi has since dispelled the findings arguing that most of the water on the market has been tested and is free of not just heavy metals but micro-organisms too.
“I have done testing for a very long time and have not come across any cases of heavy metals especially in bottled water. We can not rule out the fact that some people beat our surveillance system and put such water on the market,” he said.
Cases of lead contamination in drinking water have also been sighted in developed countries such as the USA with media reports showing that just last year the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data showed that 5,363 water systems, which provide water to more than 18 million people had breached the federal Lead and Copper Rule.
“These violations include the failure to properly test water for lead or inadequate treatment of water to prevent lead from leeching from old pipes into the drinking supply,” reads one of the stories.
Flint, one of the major cities in Michigan, USA was hit by a crisis of lead contamination in water with lead and iron after the state switched it’s water source. It was found that the regulations had been flaunted and it took a local doctor to carry out a private investigation that uncovered the crisis.
The research findings were released as part of the Microbiology Society (UK)-Kyambogo University Annual Graduate Conference.
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, the University’s Academic Registrar highlighted that as a University, Rose Bwire said the institution is deliberately coming out to address public health issues.
“We have ring-fenced all the research funds raised from students to support research projects and plans are underway to build an incubation center,” she said.
As a university, Bwire explains, the only way to become visible is through research which they have not given much attention in the past.
How does lead get into my tap water?
Lead can be found in some metal water taps, interior water pipes, or pipes connecting a house to the main water pipe in the street. Lead found in tap water usually comes from the corrosion of older fixtures or from the solder that connects pipes. When water sits in leaded pipes for several hours, lead can leach into the water supply.
How to safely use tap water incase one suspects lead contamination.
Until you eliminate the source, you should take the following steps any time you wish to use tap water for drinking or cooking, especially when the water has been off and sitting in the pipes for more than 6 hours:
Before using any tap water for drinking or cooking, flush your water system by running the kitchen tap (or any other tap you take drinking or cooking water from) on COLD for 1–2 minutes;
Then, fill a clean container(s) with water from this tap. This water will be suitable for drinking, cooking, preparation of baby formula, or other consumption. To conserve water, collect multiple containers of water at once (after you have fully flushed the water from the tap as described).
If the pipe at the street (header pipe) DOES contain lead, lead in the tap water may be coming from that pipe or connected pipes (it may also be coming from sources inside your home).
In all situations, drink or cook only with water that comes out of the tap cold. Water that comes out of the tap warm or hot can contain much higher levels of lead. Boiling this water will NOT reduce the amount of lead in your water.
You can also reduce or eliminate your exposure to lead in drinking water by consuming only bottled water or water from a filtration system that has been certified by an independent testing organization to reduce or eliminate lead.
Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. Therefore, for homes with children or pregnant women and with water lead levels exceeding the recommended levels its safer to use bottled water or water from a filtration system that has been certified by an independent testing organization to reduce or eliminate lead for cooking, drinking, and baby formula preparation.
Make sure that repairs to copper pipes do not use lead solder.