BUENOS AIRES - Too Much Clorine? Tap Water Toxic, Argentine City Says

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UPDATE - Tap Water Toxic, Argentine City Says

ARGENTINA: April 26, 2000 BUENOS AIRES - The Argentine city of Bahia Blanca has warned its 420,000 residents to avoid using tap water because it says it is laced with toxic bacteria that cause skin irritation and possibly neurological damage.

"I've worked here for 25 years and I'd say this is the worst water crisis I've ever seen here," city public health chief Ana Maria Reimers said on Tuesday.

Angry residents carrying banners reading "This water is going to kill us" protested in the streets of Bahia Blanca on Monday to demand government action.

Reimers said several cases of skin rashes had been linked to the water. She quoted medical literature as saying the bacteria caused skin irritation in the short term and if consumed in large enough quantities could cause neurological damage.

Bahia Blanca, 420 miles (685 km) southwest of Buenos Aires, is Argentina's main petrochemical production base and a leading agricultural centre.

Residents first noticed a bad smell in their tap water on April 10. Municipal official are still waiting for test results they requested a week ago from the city's water supply company, Azurix Buenos Aires SA , an Enron Corp. unit.

"The situation is not of Azurix's making. It's a result of the poor quality of water supplied by the provincial government's reservoir and dam," Azurix managing director of technical operations Richard Lacey told Reuters.

"Between April 16 and 22 there has been a taste and odour problem but the water has always been safe to drink," said Lacey.

The head of the provincial water regulation agency was not immediately available for comment as he was in Bahia Blanca, a spokesman said.

Water regulators and provincial public works officials went to the Azurix water treatment plant in Bahia Blanca on Tuesday to test the water, city and company officials said.

"We are following the... situation very closely and we've rejected the public works plan the company presented to the government of Buenos Aires province. If it's necessary, we'll revoke their concession," provincial Public Works Minister Julian Dominguez told Telam news agency in Bahia Blanca.

The municipal government urged residents to drink bottled water, limit the time they spend in the shower or bath and not brush their teeth with tap water.

"It smells and tastes like a pesticide. When you take a hot shower the odour is overwhelming," city spokesman Carlos Rossi said. But he said it was unlikely that petrochemical plants were the source of the contamination.

Reimers said the source of contamination could be the farmland through which the canal bringing the city's water from distant wells flows.

She and Rossi said the bacteria outbreak may also have arisen if a heavy dose of chlorine had been added to the water to counter any seasonal increase in algae.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Veronica Odriozola said that in general, Argentina's sources of potable water were not sufficiently protected from contamination.

"Often privatised waterworks tend to abuse the use of chlorine to purify water. If you use too much chlorine it combines with other particles in the water and can form carcinogens," Odriozola said.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 29, 2000


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Water firm works to clean up Argentine reservoir

ARGENTINA: April 28, 2000 BUENOS AIRES - U.S. and Australian experts have been asked to help deal with an algae outbreak in the water supply of the Argentine city of Bahia Blanca, but health fears over the water were unfounded, an official said on Thursday.

"We're bringing in experts from the U.S. and Australia who are familiar with this particular problem. They'll be here tomorrow (Friday)," Azurix Corp. chief executive Rebecca Mark told Reuters. An algae bloom in a reservoir owned and operated by provincial authorities was treated with chlorine by the Enron Corp. unit, resulting in discoloration and a strong stench in the city's drinking water, Mark said.

Angry residents carried banners reading "This water is going to kill us" and demanded government action on Monday in Bahia Blanca, 420 miles (685 km) southwest of Buenos Aires.

"Internal and independent testing found the water was safe to drink and government testing today found the water was safe to drink," Mark said.

Buenos Aires Gov. Carlos Ruckauf and his ministers of health, public works, economy and the interior met with Azurix officials Thursday and agreed to work with its engineers to solve the algae outbreak.

"Here the reservoir has fairly low flow. The dam needs improvements to raise the level," Mark said, adding that chemical treatment may also be advised by Azurix experts. Earlier this week municipal officials raised the possibility of bacteria contamination in the water and urged residents not to drink it.



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 29, 2000.

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