Despite repeated assurances from the Ministry of Health that drinking water on the south coast has not been affected by the ongoing sewage spill, the United States has issued a health alert to its staff here, advising that the tap water is simply not safe for consumption.
In a statement posted on the US embassy website, the Americans said they had conducted tests recently on the tap water and had found “elevated levels” of bacteria.
“Recent tests at several US Embassy residences revealed bacteria at elevated levels in the tap water. As a precautionary measure, the US Embassy recommended to its staff to boil their drinking water or use bottled water,” the alert, posted late this afternoon, said, without specifying the locations of the residences where the tests were conducted.
The embassy said it would continue to monitor the situation and provide updates accordingly.
However, it advised its staff to follow the Centers for Disease Control directions on how to stay healthy and safe, which include guidance on safe drinking and eating.
Today’s advisory directly contradicts Minster of Health John Boyce, who touched on the issue during a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) branch meeting at Lawrence T Gay School over the weekend.
Boyce told party faithful the ministry had conducted weekly tests on both the seawater and drinking water in the area, and had determined that the near-shore water quality was normal and potable water was safe to drink.
In addition, he stressed that samples collected from kitchen surfaces showed no abnormal bacteria.
“In due time, the Barbados Water Authority will be issuing appropriate information to the people of Barbados for you to be sure that your health is taken care of and that we are capable of controlling the incidents of any diseases because of the situation,” Boyce said, adding that the ministry was not into any cover-up schemes.
“If there is any change into that circumstance, you, the public, will be the first to know,” he added.
When asked to comment on the latest development this afternoon, Boyce told Barbados TODAY he had been at meetings all day and had only had a glimpse of the advisory after it was forwarded to him by Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best.
Therefore, the minister said, he was not prepared to respond at the moment, adding that he would be conferring with Dr Best and other officials from the Ministry of Health tomorrow on the matter.
“I was in Cabinet for most the day but as I was driving home the alert from the US embassy was forwarded to me. I have not had a chance to speak with them on the issue but I would be doing so in the morning,” Boyce said.
This is the fourth time that Barbados has been hit with warnings and travel advisories linked to the sewage spill since the start of the year, with Canada, the US and the United Kingdom issuing travel advisories in the space of three days, warning their citizens to avoid areas impacted by the effluent overflows.
While none of the countries had advised against travelling to Barbados, but simply to “take normal security precautions” while here, Washington had called on its citizens to “avoid water activities in the affected areas” on the south coast between St Lawrence Gap and Hastings, and to “beware of sewage on the street”.
In a swift reaction to the latest alert, former Minister of Health Elizabeth Liz Thompson described the situation as “a national disgrace”, and called on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as well as the ministers responsible for health, water resource management, the environment, business and tourism to “indicate what type, level and frequency of random testing of the water quality of residential and commercial properties in the affected area is being conducted to determine if there is any intrusion of bacteria or other compromise of the potable water or water system”.
“If the sewage is visible above ground and is bubbling up through any space available, it must be worse underground where water pipes are located,” Thompson posted on the Barbados TODAY Facebook page.
“How much more international embarrassment and real risk to health, safety, the economy and wellbeing, will the country and its nationals have to bear for this Government to act in the national interest, or even condescend to answer a national who is raising legitimate issues?
“The south coast needs this type of testing if the public is to be protected,” she wrote.