Despite low chlorine level, KWSB insists there’s nothing fowl(eri)

Most recent cases of Naegleria fowleri infection include four residents of FB Area.

Samia Malik/saad Hasan October 09, 2012


As more cases of the deadly illness caused by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri continue to surface, officials have started wrangling with one another over the quality of water that runs through the city’s pipelines.

Since July, the organism has killed nine people in Karachi and one in Hyderabad. The latest cases include four patients living in Federal B Area. This fact sent the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) scrambling to test samples of water from supply lines in the locality. The utility supplies Karachi with over 500 million gallons of water per day after cleaning it and adding chlorine at its filtration plants.

The managing director of KWSB, Misbahuddin Fareed, said on Monday that the results showed that the level of chlorine was indeed low - it was 0.15 (parts per million) ppm when it should have been at least 0.5 ppm.

Despite this, the manager refused to believe that the water was contaminated and asked Aga Khan University to conduct research to determine whether the water did indeed carry the organism. “Our water is running water anyway. It does not stagnate and allow germs to multiply.” He said that the organisation checks the quantity of water every three hours.

Yahya Waseem Qureshi, the water board’s chief chemist, said, “Has anyone found this organism in the water? Some experts say that it is in the water, but it is impossible to detect the microorganism in such a large system.” He added that by the time water reaches people’s houses, the concentration of chlorine does indeed dip, but it is still enough to kill bacteria. A greater concentration might be required to eliminate naegleria, but Qureshi said that there “has to be some research to prove that [adding more chlorine] will work.”

At the COD Filtration Plant where 160 million gallons is filtered every day, around 680 kilogrammes of chlorine is added each hour. Gas is pumped from 1,600kg chlorine cylinders into large pools where water coming from Kheenjar Lake is collected.

“We are following the standard procedure. The record is before you,” said Khaliq Siddiqui, a senior engineer at the plant as he refuted allegations that KWSB was saving money by avoiding chlorination. “People living near the plant have been complaining about pungent smell coming from water. That’s because we have raised the chlorine level in recent days. What else can we do?”

Lack of expertise and

Like other government agencies, the KWSB also lacks the facilities to detect naegleria. “I would have to do it manually by cultivating it in the lab,” said chief chemist Qureshi. “The situation is like the initial outbreak of dengue. When the first few cases surfaced, there was panic and no one knew what was causing it. We had to seek help from foreign experts to contain it.”

The suggestion that people might be dying by intake of water through nostrils during ablution has also raised questions about the subsoil water used at mosques.

“Most of them use underground aquifers,” Qureshi said.

The victims’ families are still wondering where the disease was contracted. “My brother did not go to any other place except for his office at the Institute of Business Administration. He used to pray regularly, but only at his own office or at home,” said a victim’s brother.

Dr Naseem Salahuddin, the head of Indus Hospital’s infectious diseases department, said that there are so many questions that remain unanswered. She clarified that none of the experts claim that the water supplied by KWSB is contaminated, but are seeking its cooperation because if they ensure proper levels of chlorination, then the bugs will not multiply.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2012.


Cautious | 9 years ago | Reply

“Our water is running water anyway. It does not stagnate and allow germs to multiply.”

The statement alone would be grounds for termination in most countries -- shows a profound lack of understanding of the basics that someone who is responsible for running a water sanitation facility should know. His lack of knowledge and apparent indifference to the danger he places others would constitute gross negligence possibly constituting a crime.

Concerned | 9 years ago | Reply

@Samia: ICU of Liaquat National Hospital

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