Government has all but dismissed the results of tests by the United States “at several US Embassy residences” which found “bacteria at elevated levels in the tap water”.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator Maxine McClean and Minister of Health John Boyce issued a joint statement today after meeting with US officials here, declaring that the island’s drinking water supply was safe.
“Barbados’ potable water is safe and meets the standards of the World Health Organisation (WHO) drinking water guidelines,” the statement said.
The US embassy here issued a health alert late yesterday afternoon indicating that it 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 embassy said in a statement posted on its website, 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 US Centers for Disease Control directions on how to stay healthy and safe, which include guidance on safe drinking and eating.
The alert appeared to have taken the authorities here by surprise, with Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Anton Best telling a news conference this afternoon that the results of the tests by the Americans were only shared with local health officials today.
With the alert threatening to cast a pall over the island’s tourism industry, which had already been rocked by travel advisories by the US, Canada and the United Kingdom over the ongoing sewage crisis on the south coast, a Government delegation led by McClean and Boyce met today with US Ambassador Linda Taglialatera to express the administration’s concern.
At that meeting, also attended by Best, General Manager of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) Keithroy Halliday and health and tourism officials, the Americans revealed that tests were done at five of the 68 staff residences, four of which were in Enterprise, Graeme Hall, Atlantic Shores and Palisades in Christ Church.
Halliday told a news conference this afternoon at McClean’s Culloden Road, St Michael office that those properties were not linked to the south coast sewerage network, nor were they being supplied with water from the same source as the sewage affected areas in Hastings and Worthing.
In any event, Dr Best said the embassy officials admitted that the laboratory tests showed an absence of salmonella, coliform and E.Coli, the bacteria, which would be of major concern to public health officials here. He also cast doubt on the methodology used to conduct the tests.
“We were not given any information about the lab that was used in the testing. We were also not told about the processes that were involved and the methodology of the testing,” he told the press conference.
Nevertheless, he indicated that the elevated bacterial level was of concern, even though he charged there were no specifics, “and from our vantage point, it is not very analytical because when you get a result like that there are a lot more tests that have to be done to determine the source and determine the significance of finding bacteria in water”.
McClean, who also addressed the media at the news conference, said she had sought permission from the US for Barbados to conduct its own tests at the properties concerned, and that “in case of future tests, we have asked that there be simultaneous collection of samples”.
She said the embassy had agreed to collaborate with the Ministry of Health and the BWA in this regard.
The minister also said Barbados’ diplomatic missions, as well as tourism officials, would be deployed to undertake damage control.
Meanwhile, in updating the media on the sewage overflows on the south coast, Halliday said despite sporadic setbacks, the water company’s mitigating measures were working.
“Whenever you have sewage on the ground or seeping out, it is not an easy fix. There is a process you have to follow . . . simply because no matter what you do you are having sewage coming at you constantly. So you always have to find ways in which to manage it while affecting the repairs,” Halliday said.
“So our situation is far from unique . . . and perhaps we have not done ourselves a service by indicating to all and sundry that this is one of many such issues across the globe.”
The BWA boss added that between $10 million and $20 million was needed to return the sewage system to normality.