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Ensuring water filtration

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FOLLOWING a joint study by the UNDP and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) which found the sub-soil drinking water in southern Punjab to be of alarmingly poor quality, Sheikh Zayed financed the installation of 15 reverse osmosis water filtration plants in the region, each costing around Rs20 million.

The main cause for the quality of poor water has been attributed to sewage that gets mixed with drinking water through the damaged sewerage system, that is, worn-out cement pipes. The pipes are now being replaced with GRP, a fiberglass pipe coated with plastic, in big towns like Lahore.

In smaller towns, the sewerage system is laid along the water supply lines that facilitate the mixing of sewage with drinking water. Of late, a renowned water treatment and marketing company was disseminating information against the quality of water of these filtration plants and was advocating that the water did not conform to industry standards and was injurious to health.

With a view to ascertaining the factual position, an investigation was initiated by using a total dissolved solids (TDS) meter, a water-testing device, which indicates the salts and minerals present in solution. These solids contribute to the conductivity of solution. It is measured in TDS units or parts per million (ppm) or mg per litre. When we come to recommend industry standards for pure drinking water, the Environmental Protection Agency (EVA), US, recommends usage of under 500 TDS water as safe for health. Tap water in the US normally contains 350 TDS. Drinking water that carries more than 500 TDS is toxic, infectious and may carry radiological agents that are detrimental to health.

When I contacted Dr Mehmood Qureshi, coordinator of UNDP, he told me that the arsenic level in the water of the region forming Rahim Yar Khan is above the standard level of 10 parts per billion (ppb). In some cases, it crossed 100 ppb. However, the yellowish matter present in water that looks like brick powder is iron. He said that traces of floride and other chemicals, caused by fertilisers and pesticides, had also been found.

While studying impure water having TDS beyond the recommended limits, it was learnt that hepatitis A (commonly called jaundice or ‘peelia’) is normally spread through the faece or stool of the individual infected by the virus. When sewage carrying the virus mixes up with drinking water, it is transmitted to all who drink the water. For checking the quality of water, you can use either a salinometer or a TDS meter or a PH meter. A company called Technical Associates is responsible for the operation and maintenance of all plants in Punjab. The authorities concerned should make sure that the people are provided pure water through all water filtration plants.

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