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NAWASA reports no adverse changes in water quality from volcanic ash

General Manager of Nawasa, Christopher Husbands

The state-owned National Water and Sewerage Authority (NAWASA) has given assurance that there is no change in water quality due to the presence of sulfuric ash and dust on the island.

A light mixture of ash and dust particles was visible on many houses, vehicles, and plants across some parts of the island Sunday, following a series of explosive eruptions of the La Soufrière volcano on the neighbouring island of St. Vincent.

The volcano started to erupt last week Friday and the ash and dust were carried over to the sister isle of Carriacou and Mainland Grenada by low-level winds, sparking health concerns in some quarters, including the impact on the quality of drinking water.

When contacted by THE NEW TODAY on Monday, NAWASA General Manager Christopher Husbands said that workers have been monitoring the water supply throughout the island and so far, there has been no adverse impact detected.

However, Husbands indicated that the situation could change depending on the intensity and duration of the eruptions at the volcano which erupted for the first time in 40 years.

“We are monitoring the raw water quality (but) we don’t believe that the concentrations that we are having are significant enough to contaminate the water supply…,” he said.

“…Our information is that the ash, the large fume from yesterday is going north…as you can see, today, we haven’t had much of an effect as compared to Saturday night, and so far, we haven’t detected any change in water quality,” he added.

While the intake structures at the various receiving plants across the island are not covered, the NAWASA General Manager explained that all treatment tanks for water distribution are covered.

“The intake structures are uncovered (but) the treated water tanks are all covered,” Husbands said, explaining that “it (the water) goes through a treatment process before it goes into the tanks for distribution to the public”.

“So, we have made sure that the treated water tanks are covered and we are monitoring the raw water supply to ensure that there are no adverse changes (as a result of the mixture of ash and dust from the volcano) but we haven’t discovered anything, so far,” he remarked.

Husbands also told THE NEW TODAY that “there has been no noticeable change in water quality as a result of the Sahara dust,” which the Met office said was expected to persist in the early days of the week.

According to the National Geographic website, nationalgeographic.org, unlike the ash produced by burning wood and other organic materials, volcanic ash can be dangerous, as its particles are very hard and usually have jagged edges, which can cause eye, nose, and lung irritation, as well as breathing problems.

Research shows that elements in volcanic ash that dissolve into drinking water are not considered a health risk except for Flouride (F), and that ash will cause Calcium (Ca), Sodium (Na), Magnesium (Mg) Potassium (K), Flouride (F), and Sulfate (SO4) levels to rise in surface water, while groundwater will be less affected.

According to NAWASA Acting Transmission and Distribution Manager, Ernest Bruno, they are using “biological indicators,” which are direct measures of the health of the fauna and flora in the waterway, to monitor the toxicity levels of the raw water supply”.

“We are using biological indicators…in the river environment, we have both surface water and groundwater…and these biological indicators tell you if there is any toxicity in the water,” he said.

Commonly used biological indicators in freshwater include various measures of macro-invertebrate or fish diversity, benthic algal growth, and benthic oxygen demand.

Although there are no immediate plans for a complete shutdown of the water system, NAWASA, in a News release on Monday evening encouraged the general public to “use this opportunity to ensure that they have three (3) days onsite water storage available for use”.

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