Water inspections still falling short

Official figures have revealed that tests on the country’s drinking water are still failing to guarantee quality levels. Although the number of tests undertaken by the Institute of Water and Residual Regulation (IWRR) rose in 2002, 17.9 per cent of obligatory tests fell by the wayside. In real terms, the institute conducted a total of 992,363 tests, 52,213 fewer than required.

In the same period 2.4 per cent of the tests carried out showed that there was more than the maximum permitted level of certain substances in the samples. According to the IWRR, 92 per cent of these contaminated samples were taken from areas where smaller water suppliers operate, serving less than 5,000 people. “The substances most commonly detected were iron, manganese and aluminium, denoting a disjointed water decontamination process, especially in the process of water purification,” notes the report.

A spokesman for the institute remarked that there were just four concelhos in the country where there were no reported infringements in water quality, although he did not reveal which areas they were. But the same report noted that when it comes to smaller systems there was evidence of failures both in the number of analyses conducted and in water quality norms.

The institute was keen to stress that this did not imply a danger to human health, since in most cases the problems were down to a deficiency in the disinfecting process, something that is, allegedly, easily correctable. But Quercus (The National Association of Conservation and Nature), expressed disquiet with the report’s findings and claimed that the IWRR’s failure to conduct thousands of tests was still a glaring deficiency. “This can conceal many situations that can cause public health problems,” said a spokesman for the organisation. It said the report showed there was still “incompetence” in Portugal, when it comes to guaranteeing water quality for the general population. The Quercus spokesman also expressed concern over the 2.4 per cent of tests carried out, representing around 15,000 samples, which showed excess levels of certain substances.

Although Quercus acknowledge that the number of samples containing undesirable levels was lower than in 2002, the organisation still maintains that, “all these aspects represent a violation of national and European legislation.” The association has also highlighted the fact that an EU community directive, which demands more vigorous testing than has been reported in the annual inspections, has been in force since January 2004.

According to Quercus, there is an inadequate level of information about water quality in the various areas of the country and only 11 regions have complied with the law regarding the number of tests undertaken.