Ministry of VSA has the responsibility to ensure that the drinking water that is being delivered to the community is safe. Yesterday, the Inspectorate released a statement “Indeed some hotels on the island have tested positive for legionella which can happen due to various causes. Those that were tested positive do have a program to follow to ensure that contamination is contained and prevented. The Inspectorate and the hotels are working very well together to ensure that the laws are adhered to and that public safety is protected.”
Minister Emil Lee reassures the public that at no time was there a public health risk and that if there were, the Inspectorate would adopt a policy where they would inform the public whenever there is a public health risk. The results were widespread and not contained to any particular location on the island, some of the hotels began testing the GEBE water that they were receiving directly to the property and found that there were some inconsistencies. This triggered a discussion with the Inspectorate whereby a snapshot of the water distributed around Sint Maarten, which raised some points of concern but nothing that would be considered a public health risk. The snapshot tests normally involve the distribution tanks but the ministry found it important to assess what was happening within the distribution system as well.
The minister made it clear that the ministry is still in the process of investigation and understanding what exactly is happening. There are parameters specified within the law that are not being adhered to. For example, by law, there is a minimum and maximum level of chlorine that is supposed to be present in the drinking water. Chlorine is sanitizer that is added to the water to ensure that there is no bacterial growth in the water and makes it safe for consumption. The snapshot assessments also showed results indicating the water’s pH level is fairly high. Although the pH level of the water is not a parameter, the consequence of having higher pH levels present in the water is that more chlorine will be consumed. This makes maintaining an appropriate level of chlorine in the water an issue. Dialogue has been initiated with GEBE expressing the concerns with the findings of the snapshot evaluation of the distribution system and a number of agreements were made in particular with regards to the testing of the water, frequency of the sampling, and to make it clear that they must adhere to the parameters for the quality of water. There are plans to have discussions with the water producers as well.
“I want to be sure that we don’t create any hysteria. At no point is there any public health risk otherwise the public would have been informed”, said Minister Lee.