Drinking water safety
Urgent steps needed to solve algae problem
The scorching heat wave these days is driving many people near crazy. It’s hard to consider not drinking tap water or take a shower because of a foul odor and health concerns. But that’s happening to an increasing number of people living along the nation’s two largest rivers of the Han and Nakdong as they are covered in a layer of blue-green algae.
Far more irritating than the natural phenomenon are the reactions of government officials. At a Cabinet meeting, President Lee Myung-bak said the algal bloom is inevitable because of high temperature and drought. ``That said, relevant officials should do their best to manage the situation, as there seem to be a lot of concerns among the public.” One can feel a sense of urgency lacking in the President’s words.
Like boss, like underling. A Cheong Wa Dae spokesman appeared more intent on severing the possible ― near certain ― relationship between the greening of the rivers and Lee’s controversial four-river refurbishment project that slowed the flow of water by building 16 dams along them.
Lee’s environment minister was also busy playing down the harm, saying there have been no toxic algae found so far, and the stench will disappear if people boil the water for three minutes before drinking it.
It was in early July that the blue-green algae first appeared in the upper regions of these rivers but officials have done little to prevent the spread downstream except to say a downpour will eventually solve the problem. It’s been years now that county and district offices have asked the central government to build an advanced water treatment system to stem what has become an annual event of algae damage but the central government is not acting, citing administrative and financial reasons.
There is a wide difference in views whether and how the four-river project has affected the massive algae formation and water quality.
If the administration is to prove all these adverse effects have been caused only by unusual weather this year and have nothing to do with the river project, it should be able to explain why all the rivers in countries much hotter than Korea are not covered with the stinking, toxic algae. It could as well explain how the same rivers in Korea were free from such concerns in the summer of 1994 when the heat wave was far worse than this year’s. Like rolling stones gathering no moss, free flowing water makes no algae. No one can deny the project sharply slowed down the movement of the water.
And if the delay in construction of an up-to-date filtering facility is due to a lack of budget, they could have built thousands of them with the 22 trillion won poured into and having flown away along the rivers.
Even without the algae problem, the river-refurbishment project must undergo bipartisan scrutiny for possible misuse of money, shoddy construction, future maintenance costs and many other reasons. Taxpayers have the right to know the truth.
More urgent for now is to free the people from concerns about bad smelling tap water using all means available. Praying for rain cannot be the government’s reply.