Stinky water ‘safe to drink’

Sandra Napier, from Portland, buys water because her tap water stinks.

A Portland mother claims the earthy-tasting water from her tap has caused her family to become ill.

Sandra Napier said about a month ago their tap water started smelling and has been brown in colour since.

She complained to the City of Cape Town on Sunday April 24 about the water having a smell.

Ms Napier, her husband have had sore throats and their daughter has a lung infection – and she believes the state of the water may have something to do with it. However, the City has assured residents that the water is safe to drink – despite it containing geosmin, a compound of organic molecules produced by algae that occurs naturally and is found in surface waters, rivers and dams.

“A lot of people have been complaining about this water. Surely if there is algae in the pipes, there must be something they can do about it. The water is stinking and nothing is being done about it,” she said.

Ms Napier is frustrated that she has continue to pay her municipal bill, despite also having to buy water – and she has had to pay doctor’s bills and purchase medication.

In a text message to Ms Napier, the City said: “The City would like to reassure residents who have detected an earthy taste in their tap water, that it remains safe to drink and is compliant with the SANS241 (South African National Drinking Water Standard). It must be emphasised that the earthy taste poses no threat to human health.”

This standard limits various determinants to ensure that drinking water supplied does not have an adverse effect on human health for lifetime consumption.

Mayoral committee member for water and sanitation Dr Zahid Badroodien said geosmin is a nuisance compound which has no negative health impact when digested.

He said geosmin can be detected by taste and smell, and that “some individuals can detect geosmin to as low as a few nanograms per litre”.

A doctor who didn’t want his name published, said the human nose was extremely sensitive to geosmin and was able to detect it at very low concentration levels.

“These odours are not chemically toxic but do have a very unpleasant smell which can cause sensitive individuals to become nauseous, have an upset stomach, vomiting and have headaches,” he said.

Dr Badroodien said the City was putting processes in place to reduce the earthy taste. The most common process was to dose powdered activated charcoal to reduce the compound in the water.

However, it may take some time for the taste of the water to normalise.

The City’s scientific services department reports that the sample tested had been found to be within acceptable criteria standards related to the compound being present.

The council has an integrated drinking water reticulation system enabling drinking water supply from any of its treatment works to several areas within the city.

“As treatment works do not necessarily have dedicated supply areas, it is not possible to identify specific areas,” said Dr Badroodien.