CHLORINE in drinking water is harmless to humans in the concentrations used by Scottish Water.
That assurance was given this week by Bill Elliot, the Borders regional community manager of the national body following an astonishing attack by Kenneth Gunn, who represents Selkirkshire on Scottish Borders Council.
Councillor Gunn (SNP) launched his broadside in response to last week’s story in TheSouthern about the completion by Scottish Water of infrastructure work in the region worth £25million, including £10million on a new membrane plant at the Howden borehole site – in Mr Gunn’s ward – which supplies 17,000 customers in Selkirk, Melrose, Earlston, Lauder and parts of Galashiels.
The works were welcomed by Scottish Secretary and local MP Michael Moore who said: “As a result of the investment, the water we drink in the Borders will be clearer and fresher.”.
But Mr Gunn claimed Scottish Water had not improved drinking water.
“The quality and taste is disgusting and in a civilised country we are surely entitled to unadulterated drinking water and not a chemical cocktail,” he told us.
“I can still remember when people used to come here and remark on how sweet and pure our water was and in Selkirk, where we have no reservoir connection, how enjoyable it was to drink pure water from the tap in the house.
“That was when water was part of the delivery from the local authority, before South of Scotland Water and long before Scottish Water.
“I asked Scottish Water three years ago why the tap water in my home smells like it had just come out of a swimming pool.
“Two high ranking officials of the company came from Dumfries to assure me it was regulations which made them add chlorine to my drinking water, but that a sum of £10million was to be spent on the plant at Howden which was built on Selkirk’s own water supply table and this was to include a new membrane plant which would make the addition of quite so much chlorine a thing of the past.
“According to the report last week, that work has now been completed, so why does my water still stink?
“At the SBC offices in Newtown, it tastes and smells the same and also in Galashiels, Lauder and elsewhere across the Borders and, one suspects, throughout Scotland.
“We are drinking bleach because that is what chlorine is. Bleach, which is used in the cleaning industry, which is a poison, is being added to our drinking water.
“Yes, it is put into our water in low dosages, supposedly to kill germs, but if it is a poison to the germs, is it not also a poison to human beings?
“The answer is: yes it is. If the dosage is increased in humans, even by accident and by a small amount, it can destroy your vocal chords and do serious damage to your throat.
“Why are we drinking water with man-made chemicals added when we are entitled to clean, pure water?
“Not so many years ago, there was uproar when it was suggested we add fluoride to our drinking water in an effort to stop our teeth rotting. Why are we not questioning the wisdom of adding a much stronger poison to our bodies?
“Yes, Scottish Water has improved the network of pipes and closed off many leaks, but what they have not done is improve our drinking water.”
Mr Elliot, Scottish Water’s regional community manager for the Borders, told TheSouthern: “The annual report of the Drinking Water Quality Regulator confirms the quality of tap water in Scotland is the highest it has ever been.
“In Scotland we are blessed with a very high standard of raw water. However, in order to protect public health and ensure this reaches customers’ taps in a state that is safe for them to drink, it is necessary to treat water.
“Chlorine has been used for more than 100 years to treat water around the world and remove water-borne diseases. It is harmless to humans in the concentrations we use in our supplies.”
Mr Elliot said that in 2009, more than 334,000 tests were carried out on samples taken from water treatment works, service reservoirs and consumers’ taps. Of the 155,000 tests of water from taps, 99.78 per cent complied with the standards set by Scottish ministers.
“Some customers have a more sensitive palate and notice changes in the chlorine residual more so than others,” admitted Mr Elliot. “Should Councillor Gunn have any further issues with drinking water, I would encourage him and any other local elected members to contact me directly.”
Mr Gunn’s opinion of Scottish Water appears at odds with that of his party leader in Scotland, First Minister Alex Salmond, who recently praised the organisation, claiming it had “transformed a public service, long suffering from a lack of funds, into a significant success story”.
Mr Salmond added: “Where there was inefficiency and waste we now have a smoothly functioning company ... its rate of improvement has been beyond anything achieved by privatised water companies, giving us average charges lower than in England and Wales.”