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EThekwini water is safe to drink

Date: 2022-05-23 14:57:33

EThekwini water is safe to drink

The eThekwini Municipality has noted with concern the article “First floods, now tainted drinking water” published on Sunday, 15 May 2022 by the Sunday Tribune. 

The article reported that the City’s water was contaminated and unsafe to drink. It went on to claim that the municipality was deliberately withholding such information thus putting the lives of millions of people at risk. The article is riddled with misinformation, shaky research, sensationalism and is downright fallacious.

When the article came to the City’s attention our Water and Sanitation Unit scientist immediately contacted Wearcheck, the company cited as having handled the test. The city wanted to understand where exactly the samples were collected so that the City could conduct its own tests. Wearcheck said they were given the samples by the Tribune.

The Sunday Tribune was contacted to assist with addresses of where the samples were taken. Sadly, the Tribune was not willing to divulge this information, citing POPIA implications. It has since transpired that the samples were collected by Tribune employees from their homes. These same Tribune employees make their living by writing about other people and other organisations, so the irony of them wanting to protect their own privacy is not lost on us.

The Tribune also refused to share with us the procedure followed in taking samples, what containers were used to get the samples, how the samples were stored before testing and how they were transported for testing. All these variables can impact the outcome of any test. Importantly, the refusal to divulge this critical information points to a sinister intention of the story at best, or a prior knowledge that the tests results were shaky, at worst.

Even more shocking is that the laboratory used by Wearcheck that tested the Tribune samples is not accredited for some of the tests that it did. This laboratory used by Wearcheck is accredited for chemical analysis, not for microbiology or biological analysis. This then begs the question: why would a company that has 17 labs and offices worldwide (as eloquently told to us by the Tribune) compromise itself in this manner. There must be another reason other than a burning desire to be part of a dodgy front-page story in the Tribune.

Taking water samples is an intricate process involving not only sterile apparatus, but there are also strict guidelines to ensure that water is not contaminated during sampling and transportation to the laboratory. The last time we checked this was not something taught at journalism schools.

Our Water and Sanitation Unit stands by its recent statement that the water provided to residents is safe and meets the required standards for drinking water. We continue with regular and routine testing of drinking water quality at all eThekwini Water treatment works, bulk water reservoirs, and Reticulation systems in compliance with the requirements of the national drinking water standard SANS 241: 2015. 

Umgeni Water, our bulk water provider, undertakes water quality monitoring at the water works and points of handover to eThekwini Municipality. The Municipality is then responsible for water quality monitoring in the distribution networks and in reservoirs. Water quality sampling is done by eThekwini Water Laboratory. Analysis is undertaken in an ISO 17025, SANAS accredited laboratory. We would be happy to host the Tribune on a tour of our accredited laboratory.

The results of the testing at all the Umgeni bulk and eThekwini water reservoirs supplying the greater eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality areas particularly the Tongaat, Greyville, Umlazi, Queensburgh Inanda and Phoenix areas, as referenced in the article, were fine. The E-coli and coliform results were less than the required limit specified in SANS 241:2015 (10 coliforms per 100 ml), and no E-coli was detected on samples analysed during the period in question.
We therefore request that the Tribune retract the misleading story and publish this letter. We fully understand that all newspapers are desperately trying to increase readership in the face of online media onslaught, but this cannot be done at the expense of the truth and the welfare of the public. We regard the Tribune as a reputable newspaper, so we remain hopeful that it will do the right thing. 

Msawakhe Mayisela, Senior Manager Media Relations.