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Drought highlights risks of untreated water in island homes

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People fill containers from Casons tap "at their peril"
People fill containers from Casons tap “at their peril”

Water supplied to one in ten homes on St Helena will be unfit for consumption at times, the man in charge of the supply has warned.

But water engineer Martin Squibbs said he had not meant to spread fear when he said people drank untreated water “at their peril”.

The drought on parts of St Helena has highlighted once again the health risks to residents of the ten per cent of homes, all in Blue Hill district, that still receive untreated water.

In July 2012, St Helena Government said bringing the whole island’s supply up to World Health Organisation standards was a priority.

At Thursday’s briefing on the drought in parts of St Helena, Martin said: “The chances are that any untreated water is going to be unfit at times for consumption. That’s my view.”

He made the comment after being challenged over statements he made the day before about the dangers of people taking water from a tap at Casons, near High Peak. 

At the Wednesday briefing, he said: “Casons water is contaminated and I wouldn’t encourage anybody to go to Casons to take water for domestic purposes.

“People use it at their own risk and peril.”

Welcome to Blue Hill - but don't drink the water
Welcome to Blue Hill – but don’t drink the water

The next day, he admitted that he had since been told that it came from the Frenches Gut bore hole that also supplied homes in Blue Hill – and not “from the ground”, as he had believed.

But he remained adamant that it posed a health risk. “Three years ago I did quite a bit of testing around the island,” he said.

“I tested Casons. Nobody else tests the water. Nobody tests the water that is supplied to Blue Hill.

“I tested the water at Casons tap and it had signs of contamination. And that’s all I can say. It was a snapshot in time.

“I certainly didn’t want to spread any kind of fear about it.”

He said his first thought, when told people were taking water from the tap, was to shut it off “because it is a public liability”.

Instead, he would probably put up a warning notice, he said. 

Water from Frenches Gut is pumped up to High Peak and on to the tank at Casons as well as being piped around Blue Hill. It was possible for the water to be contaminated at Casons but be clean at other points in the chain. 

“There’s many ways it could become contaminated in service, so I could not say Frenches Gut or High Peak water was also contaminated,” he said.

“It goes to a separate tank at Casons. There’s lot of places where contamination can occur. The tank could be breeding bacteria. The tap could be contaminated.

“The people in Blue Hill have the same message: the water is untreated. I have run roadshows to tell them that. I have told them how they can combat it and I have told them the risks that they have in consuming it.

“I have also been told in no uncertain terms that they like it that way. I don’t accept that as a solution.”

He said he could supply free sterilising tablets to people in Blue Hill. 

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