U.S. Water News Online
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- 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.
Angry residents carrying banners reading ``This water is going to
kill us'' protested in the streets of Bahia Blanca to demand
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 southwest of Buenos Aires, is Argentina's
main petrochemical production base and a leading agricultural center.
Residents first noticed a bad smell in their tap water on April
10. Municipal official are still waiting for test results they
requested 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 said.
``Between April 16 and April 22 there has been a taste and odor
problem but the water has always been safe to drink,'' said Lacey.
Water regulators and provincial public works officials went to the
Azurix water treatment plant in Bahia Blanca 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 odor 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.
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