The Socialist 2 September 2008 |
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Water quality threat to health
FOR THE third time in three years, an outbreak of the parasite cryptosporidium has hit water supplies in Gwynedd and Anglesey. In 2005-06 over 200 people were left ill after contracting the parasite which causes severe diarrhoea. Then, a notice to boil all water (which kills the parasite's eggs) was in place for several months.
The company (Welsh Water/ Dwr Cyrmu) agreed to compensate 37,000 customers £25 each for their inconvenience and were fined a tiny £60,000 for supplying unfit drinking water. After the incident the company spent £1 million on new treatment equipment.
Now, however, the bug is back again. A notice to boil water, issued on 30 August, will affect 45,000 people. It appears this new treatment isn't working either. A letter released by the Drinking Water Inspectorate last year pointed out that cryptosporidium experts had warned Welsh Water about possible problems in 1998.
The investigation into the 2005-06 incident said that although treatment was in line with regulatory standards, this was because it was believed the bug would be sufficiently dilute in the water not to cause harm! Welsh Water had also failed tests of water quality there twice in previous years and been under legal obligation to improve the facilities there.
Welsh Water, like other UK water companies, was privatised in 1989. These companies' debts were written off by the government, but this still led to price increases and staffing cuts. Maintenance and investment were also cut back in 'cost-cutting' exercises. Since privatisation we have seen water shortages, outbreaks of bugs like cryptosporidium and poor maintenance of sewerage which made last year's flooding much more severe.
Water provision, a vital public service, should never have been privatised. Socialists argue for the renationalisation of the water companies, under the democratic control and scrutiny of the local and national population.