'No one drinks the water'

Safety fear grips Vineyards Estate residents

Observer staff reporter

Monday, January 01, 2018

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RESIDENTS of Vineyards Estate in St Catherine are demanding assurance from the health authorities that the water supplied to their homes is safe for consumption.

The request is being made after several individuals in the community noted a high level of sediments in their water when it settles.

In November, a man who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Jamaica Observer that he has lived in Vineyards Estate for the past 13 years and, in recent times, he retrieved a number of massive solid matter resembling hard water from his pipes.

The resident explained that since he moved to the scheme in 2004, the water has been “heavy”, but he recently noticed that when the water settles, there is a high volume of sediments. This, he said, has led to damage to his kettle, pipes, steam iron, faucets, and toilet tanks.

“Before my wife passed, she would use the kettle to boil the water for tea and a lot of sediments would settle at the bottom. The pipes often get blocked [and] the steam irons I've used have been blocked. It has damaged the shower heads and recently when the plumber pulled out the flop of the toilet tank there was a lot of build-up,” he said.

Now, in addition to paying a monthly water bill, he has to purchase water for drinking, cooking and ironing.

But moreso he is concerned about the build-up that was removed from his pipes and how the particles could have affected his health in the past when he consumed the water.

“I don't consume it now, but my wife used to drink it, and she passed from cancer. Recently, I had kidney stones, and I am wondering if this had anything to do with our health,” he said.

Yesterday when the Observer visited the community, Sandra Robinson, president of the Vineyards Estate Citizens' Association, confirmed that other residents had similar problems.

In fact, she stated, without reservation, that no one in the community consumes the water.

Instead, they either purchase five gallon bottles of water, which cost anywhere between $300 and $500, or drive to Port Esquivel in Old Harbour to fill their containers.

Depending on how frequently those who buy have to refill, this can cost them up to or in excess of $30,000 per month.

“I've been here for about 11 years and no one drinks the water. It is heavy and there is a distinct difference than the one that is bought. One of the main issues here is the toilets. It keeps on leaking because the build-up blocks the flow of the water, and when you look in the tanks you will see the sediments,” she said, adding that her small appliances, like her kettles, have been destroyed in no time.

Robinson further stated that the matter has been brought to the suppliers of their water, Dynamic Environmental Management Limited (DEML), but the excuse has always been that the housing scheme is built on limestone, hence the sediments in the water, which is taken from a well.

Another resident who asked not to be named said she has had to constantly repair her pipes and change her toilets as the sediments continue to destroy them.

“It builds up and blocks the drains and damages everything. I believe the calcium level is high as it is well water. In general, the water is very hard, and if you look in the kettles over here you would not believe it; we have to soak it in vinegar to get off the build-up. Let me not mention my pots. Something needs to be done as the water is really hard and it is difficult to be paying a water bill and still purchasing water for cooking and drinking purposes because you are fearful of what might happen if you consume it,” she said.

Annette Danvers, another long-time resident, shared similar sentiments with regard to the damage to household fixtures and appliances, but empathised with those in the community who may not be able to purchase water elsewhere.

“The reality is, while most of us buy water, you will have those who really can't afford to be buying water two, three times per week to cook and drink. What happens to them? When you boil it there is not much difference,” she said, while requesting answers from DEML as to the type of treatment that goes into the water.

Ann-Marie Bassant, another resident, said: “The build-up from the water at times gets so bad that when I turn on my pipes no water comes out.

“There is a chemical I use to burn it away [but] within two to three months it is back. I have changed faucets many times, and some within my house cost like $28,000, while the regular ones will cost between $6,000 and $8,000. Right now my guest bathroom is completely out, and for the other toilets in my home we have to constantly remove matter from the tank. It's a pity you didn't come before the holidays before everyone cleaned up,” she said.

“We have had meetings and representatives from the water company have come and nothing, and our bills are expensive. You are looking at over $6,000 at times. I hope something will be done,” Bassant added.

When the Observer contacted DEML, manager Tanisha Shettleworth explained that random water quality testing is done through the Ministry of Health's Spanish Town Health Department.

When the Observer contacted the Spanish Town Health Department in November, we were told that the medical officer of health for St Catherine, Dr Francisca Prosper-Chen, is the only one authorised to speak on the results of the water quality tests.

We were also advised that the medical officer prefers to respond to questions via e-mail.

Since then, the Observer, after two subsequent follow-ups, has still not received a response to the e-mailed questions.

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