Okay to drink tap water, but…

GEORGE TOWN: The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) today advised people to drink boiled water whenever possible although it agrees with a minister’s claim that water can be drunk directly from the tap.

It said this in the wake of a statement by Water, Land and Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar that it was “100% safe” to drink water directly from the tap and that he himself drank tap water.

CAP research officer Hatijah Hashim said tap water should be drunk as a last resort and offered tips to those who intend to do so.

Speaking to FMT, she said as most tap water was treated with chlorine, those filling up a cup of tap water should not drink it right away, but should leave it for a minute to let the chlorine evaporate.

Hatijah said this was because at room temperature chlorine would escape into the air.

“By boiling the tap water, you speed up the evaporation of chlorine. Hence, we recommend all to drink boiled water whenever possible.

“Otherwise, just fill a cup of tap water, leave it still for about five minutes and drink it. Treated tap water is safe,” she said.

Hatijah said most water treatment plants in the country used a mix of flouride and chlorine to treat water, which was safe as it met standards set by the World Health Organisation.

She said besides chlorine, a high content of iron was prevalent in tap water in some areas. She said water that had high iron content was usually reddish or brown in colour and might taste “rusty”.

Hatijah said water with iron content was safe for consumption, although the taste might not be agreeable to most people. She said to counter this problem, a cheap water filter with a cleanable element could be used.

Water Watch Penang president Chan Ngai Weng.

Water Watch Penang president Chan Ngai Weng, however, said the answer to the question if tap water was safe to drink was a yes and a no.

He said while it was true that tap water was generally safe to drink as chlorination would have killed any bacteria present in water, there were other factors to be considered.

Chan said tap water was safer if a person’s house was close to the treatment plant and the main water pipes to one’s home were new.

He said the new pipes should be at least a “few years old” and not cast iron pipes that could corrode.

Chan said this included the piping at home. He said if the house was less than 10 years old, it was likely the piping might not be corroded.

“Your tap water is safe if there are no repairs or upgrading works by the water service provider that can pollute and contaminate the pipe water… and also if there are no leaks in the main pipes or the pipes in your house,” the professor in water resources management said.

Chan said conventional water treatment did not filter away heavy metals, and microbial and organic contaminants.

“People do not become suspicious until some in the community start to get sick. Water near agricultural areas may contain harmful organic material from pesticide or fertiliser application.

“Similar contaminants can get into the water near industrial plants. These chemicals are not removed from the water in conventional water treatment,” he added.