x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai families switch to filtered tap water

Families and companies in Dubai have switched from bottled water to filtered tap water after learning that filtered tap water is safer and cheaper to drink.

Marcela Bello has decided to reconsider her family’s reliance on bottled water after learning that tap water in her Jumeirah villa is safe for drinking.
Marcela Bello has decided to reconsider her family’s reliance on bottled water after learning that tap water in her Jumeirah villa is safe for drinking.

DUBAI // Marcela Bello has decided to reconsider her family's reliance on bottled water after learning that tap water in her Jumeirah villa is fine for drinking.

The Colombian national, her husband and their young son had been using between two and three 20-litre bottles a week.

"I think the water comes from the sea and all the processing to make it not salty involves a lot of chemicals," said Mrs Bello, 35. "We just use it for showers and cleaning. We do not consume it."

But after a test carried out by The National revealed the water in the villa just off Al Wasl Road was safe for drinking, she said she would "definitely consider using the tap water".

Tap water in Dubai comes from a process in which the salts that are dissolved in seawater are removed, making it fit for human consumption.

But while the water from Dubai's desalination plants is meeting international and local standards, experiences of residents such as Zoe Cairns show reason for caution.

In May last year, her son Oslo developed "quite a bad stomach issue" at four weeks old, Mrs Cairns said.

"We had taken the baby to the doctor a few times and eventually a stool sample was taken, and we discovered the problems were caused by a waterborne amoeba," she said.

The family was not drinking the water but was using it to wash the dishes.

"It turned out it was not just the baby because my mum, who was visiting, got sick as well," Mrs Cairns said. "It was pretty obvious it was our water rather than just a coincidence."

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) was not available for comment.

But Bassem Halabi, the group business development director for Metito Overseas, a desalination company, said the quality of tap water did not depend solely on the large plants where seawater was made potable.

It also came down to the distribution network and maintenance of water tanks and pipes in each building, Mr Halabi said.

If water tanks are poorly maintained and not cleaned regularly, bacteria can accumulate and cause stomach upsets and other health problems, especially for children and elderly people, he said.

The Cairns family moved to another home and installed a water filter that removes bacteria and suspended solids. They now use tap water for all of their needs.

Mr Halabi said this was a good solution. Systems range in cost from Dh100 for a simple filter to Dh1,000 for more advanced systems. These may include cartridge filters, carbon filters and units that use ultraviolet light to kill harmful bacteria.

In some cases, the tap water may be better than the bottled kind, he said.

"When people say pure water, they imagine water that is free of all minerals. But this is wrong," Mr Halabi said. "At less than 80 milligrams of solids per litre (mgl), water becomes quite aggressive. It is like acid."

The water sampled from Mrs Bello's house had 240mgl of total solids.

The World Health Organisation limit is 1,000mgl, while 300mgl is "quite good for potable water", Mr Halabi said, adding that some bottled-water brands sell their product at between 65mgl and 350mgl.

One company offering filtering solutions is Liquid of Life in Dubai, which makes water dispensers that use air humidity or tap water as a source and purify it.

"The last quarter of 2011 was a successful and interesting time for us," said Rukhsana Kausar, the company's founding partner.

"More and more people are realising that what they are drinking from the plastic bottled water is essentially what they can get out of the tap, and the issue really comes down to the quality of the water filtration system you use."

One of Ms Kausar's clients is Elaine Kelly, a property and facilities portfolio manager for the Gulf and Saudi Arabia at Microsoft.

Mrs Kelly had the company install dispensers in its offices in Dubai Internet City last summer.

"It is a win-win from every perspective," she said, explaining that filtered water was logistically easier, cheaper and kinder to the environment.

Until the system was installed, the company was going through 85 20-litre bottles a month at the office, where there are 500 employees.

But despite the Dh7,000 annual reduction in cost and the smaller carbon footprint - bottled water is packaged in non-biodegradable plastic - the initiative did have its challenges.

When Mrs Kelly told her colleagues bottled water would no longer be available, not everyone was happy.

It took an information campaign and a tasting session, in which four of her colleagues were blindfolded and asked to tell the difference between waters, for everyone to come on board.

They could not pick which was tap and which was bottled water.

"I have discovered that water is a really personal thing," Mrs Kelly said.


* The Dubai water samples were obtained in December last year, following procedures specified by Core Laboratory, where the sample was later tested.

The end of the tap was cleaned with an antibacterial wipe. The tap was turned on and the water left running for one minute before two samples, each a litre, were taken.

They were kept in cold storage and taken to the laboratory where technicians looked for the presence of disease-causing microbes, and analysed the water’s chemical content based on 17 different parameters.

The samples were analysed for their conductivity, pH balance and what experts call total solids, or the amount of suspended and dissolved solids in the water.

The testing also measured the amount of minerals such as chloride, sulphate, fluoride, cyanide and residual chlorine, and the amount of trace metals such as copper, iron and lead.

The results were compared to guidelines established by the World Health Organisation and the Gulf Standards Organisation.
The samples met the requirements on all parameters.