Another US blow to Barbados

Barbados Foreign Minister, Maxine McLean.
Photo by George Alleyne

On the heels of three major countries advising their citizens of health concerns in Barbados, the island on Thursday suffered another embarrassing setback when the United Embassy in Bridgetown stated that the drinking water is contaminated.

The American government posted on its Bridgetown embassy website a message informing citizens of that “recent tests at several U.S. Embassy residences revealed bacteria at elevated levels in the tap water. As a precautionary measure, the US Embassy recommended to its staff to boil their drinking water or use bottled water.

“The US Embassy will continue to monitor the situation and will provide updates accordingly.”

The Nation newspaper Friday reported that some of the said US Embassy residences are on the now troubled south coast of the island where effluent has been spilling onto the streets for some while.

By itself this warning is a blow to the people of Barbados who have for decades been proudly speaking of their potable water being at such an international standard that anyone can safely drink it directly from the tap.

But this latest US advisory closely follows another it had earlier this month issued, along with Canada and the United Kingdom warning citizens to be health conscious when visiting the island owing to continuous spillage of raw sewage onto the south coast, which stemmed from prolonged problems with the sewerage pumping and treatment plant.

While the Canadians had advised nationals of a need for caution as there is a health risk on the Barbados south coast, the US stated, “there is an overflow of raw sewage due to mechanical failure on the island’s South Coast that is affecting the water quality at certain beaches between the Hastings and St. Lawrence gap areas. Sewage has periodically bubbled up onto the streets.”

The UK told its travellers, “you should avoid coming into direct contact with raw sewage and normal hygiene precautions should be followed.”

Government responded by calling a press briefing Friday evening when Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maxine McLean told the media that she led a team into a meeting with US Embassy personnel and, “we were informed by Embassy officials that the laboratory tests were negative for salmonella, E. coliform and E. coli which would be our primary public health concern.”

McLean said that the US officials agreed to give her team access to the residences in question to test the water supply there themselves, and for collaborative efforts in any future testing.

She nonetheless assured that “the drinking water supply in Barbados remains safe.”

“The Barbados Water Authority has studiously followed World Health Organisation protocol in testing the island’s drinking water supply,” she added and explained that sampling on the island is usually done with five times more frequency than the number requested by the WHO.

So far, the US embassy has given no other details on the elevated level of bacteria of contamination it reported to have found in the tap water, but as long as the south coast sewage mess continues Barbados risks a further tarnishing of its reputation as a healthy prime tourism destination.

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