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Contaminated Drinking Water

Contaminated Drinking Water and Stomach Upsets

water testing results

In many parts of the world water is not pure enough to drink. Often if we travel or go on holiday we can get an upset stomach from just a minor discomfort to a full blow amoebic illness.

All too often the first reaction is to blame the food and a specific restaurant or cafe. In fact it is usually the water that gets you.

Here we discuss the purity of water from various sources and the illnesses that you can get.

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I recently met a couple visiting Bali. The man was not happy, "I've got Bali belly" he said. "It must have been that warung we went to last night".
"It's usually the water that gets you" I replied.

Amoebic Dysentery from dirty water

Years ago I had learned the hard way. When I first came to Indonesia in the 70's I was visiting a piece of land up near Bogor. It's a long story but in short there was a border dispute over a river, I ended up wading in the river and within hours had amoebic dysentery. I got very sick, lost 2 stones in weight and it took me 3 months to find a doctor who would give me a cure. Since then I have always been careful around water and as a result have gone for years without stomach problems. In contrast a friend of mine always has problems, "stop cleaning your teeth in the well water" I tell him.

"Where did you get the infection from?"

"I'm sure it was that warung" the man went on. "What did you eat?" I asked, "Fried rice" he replied. "Fried rice is freshly cooked in a hot wok and is usually pretty safe" I said.

I traced it back. "What were you doing 4 hours before you started the symptoms?"

"We went to Tanah Lot, it was wonderful."
"Did you have anything to eat or drink?."
"No, nothing" he insisted.
"What else did you do?"
"We met a priest at the temple, he gave us water."
"He gave you water, did he put it in your hands and you sipped it?"
"Where do you think the water came from?"
"It's usually the water that gets you" I repeated.

Wells and water contamination

Living in many parts of the world requires care with your water supply. Most water comes from wells and unless it has been treated the water from any well cannot be trusted because you don't know how deep the well is or whether the water is contaminated by groundwater or a nearby septic tank.

A recent case involved five villas in a complex with a shared well. Some of the residents complained of regular bouts of illness and eventually got the water tested. It was found to be contaminated with faeces. In such a case it often difficult to identify the source of contamination because ground water could be travelling a long way before it reaches the well. Wells need to be deep enough to get into clean water and also need to be watertight for most of their depth to ensure that there is no seepage into the well from the ground near the surface.

Bores provide much cleaner water

Bores are often better, as long as they are properly lined, because they are usually much deeper than wells and get can down into purer water. Bores do tend to suffer from picking up mineral contamination from the rock.

In many built up areas of Bali there is a town reticulated water supply but this is often unreliable with considerable pressure variations and water contamination due to the many leaks in the system which allow ground water to enter and contaminate the water supply.

Reticulated government water can be contaminated

In many houses water is pumped up to a tank to be gravity fed to your house, this gives a good steady water pressure but if the tank has an open top (as many do) then birds or other things may contaminate the water.

These different sources of water are usually quite safe to wash in but take care, don't clean your teeth in it, don't get it in your mouth when you shower, don't make ice cubes from it, if you wash the dishes make sure that the dishes are dried off before you use them for food or drink and wash salads in bottled water.

If you are a person who is often sick then you might consider whether you have a problem with your water supply. You can get a water sample lab tested if you think that may be necessary.

A long term resident of Sanur often felt itchy after showering, the problem was worst in the dry season when the water level in the well was low. He moved to another house and the itching stopped and his health generally improved. He commented that going to the toilet was now a more pleasant experience than it had been for years!

If you want potable (drinking quality) water in your house then this is possible in Bali. There are companies on the island that provide water treatment equipment to provide pure clean water for all your households needs. If you own a house or are thinking of buying one the cost of quite a sophisticated water treatment system is very reasonable when compared to the substantial investment you will make in the building.

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Copyright © Phil Wilson January 2007
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