WATER sourced from 7 of 13 pumping stations in Guagua, Pampanga remain unfit for drinking due to high level of arsenic, a toxic substance that can cause cancer.
This was revealed in the 2019 audit of the Guagua Water District (Guagua WD) released by the Commission on Audit last July 23.
Guagua’s water system has been under the management of PrimeWater Infrastructure Corp. “for financing, development, rehabilitation, improvement, expansion and maintenance” since it signed a joint venture agreement (JVA) with Guagua WD on November 3, 2017.
The water district derives its supply solely from groundwater source. It has 18 pumping stations in its present service area but as of December 31, 2019, only 13 pumping stations are operational and supposed to serve 18,417 concessionaires from 31 barangays of the municipality.
The JVA partnership is intended to map out a water development program for the next 25 years to include current concerns regarding sufficient supply, non-revenue water, and water quality. It also covers service expansion, repair, and replacement of aging system and other upgrading activities.
However, government auditors said more than half of the 13 pumping stations failed the water quality test set under by the Philippine National Standard for Drinking Water of 2017.
“The Physical/Chemical Analysis of the District’s seven active sources still indicated failed results by exceeding the maximum allowable level of .01 mg/L for Arsenic examined on December 19, 2019,” the report noted.
The seven toxic stations are located in San Nicolas, San Miguel, Samsaman, Sta. Filomena, Bancal, Sta. Clara, and San Matias.
All seven registered arsenic presence levels ranging from 0.13 to 0.18 milligram per liter level which is much higher than the maximum allowable level of 0.1 mg/L.
The pumping station of San Pablo, which also failed the 2018 test at 0.12 mg/L, was reported to have passed last year’s screening at 0.0094 mg/L.
According to the World Health Organization, arsenic contamination maybe absorbed through drinking water, food preparation or irrigation of crops and can pose threats to public health.
While PrimeWater notified the COA that it is continuing to find ways to address the problem, it has already explained that “there is no existing filter yet for this particular element.”
“The Water Quality Department of Primewater is currently and continuously conducting discussions and surveys with contractors who can produce or provide an effective and efficient way to filter arsenic in the affected deep wells,” the audit team said.
In coordination with Guagua WD personnel, PrimeWater is continuously collecting samples from isolated areas for appropriate treatment and management. Likewise, various prototype treatments are being undertaken.
“Regretfully, there is no available treatment facility yet for arsenic in the Philippines and finding a solution for its treatment is challenging due to several factors, i.e. the nature and characteristics of water supply for each well, level of Silica in water supply which generally affects the absorption capacity and frequency of regeneration,” the water district said.
It added that there have been studies suggesting that the release of arsenic in the environment is due to “the natural geological sources, for instance, by weathering of arsenic-containing rocks and volcanic (Mt. Pinatubo) activities.”