Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Copper in water row hits new Hospital

Abnormally high levels of copper have been found in drinking water in two buildings in the new St Bernard’s Hospital.

Patients, visitors and staff in Buildings 3 and 4 – which includes the children’s ward - have been given bottled water and told not to drink from taps until the root of the problem is found.

“Repeated tests show results varying from normal to higher than normal copper contents,” the Gibraltar Health Authority (GHA) said in a statement yesterday.

“More tests are being carried out to establish the actual position.”

The GHA said there was “no immediate cause for concern” and that the ban on tap water in the two buildings was a precautionary measure.

Four wards have been hit by the measure, including John Mackintosh Ward, Victoria Mackintosh Ward, Rainbow Ward and Emily Mackintosh Ward. Other buildings in the hospital are not affected.

Hospital managers are working to locate the source of the copper in the water and assess whether this is a one-off or a recurring problem.

Among the options under consideration is the possibility that a chemical reaction created by an electrical charge or by a change in the acidity of the water may have resulted in higher copper levels.

The GHA statement brought a swift reaction from the GSLP/Liberals opposition, which said it had been receiving complaints about water since last May.

“It is quite incredible that the Government has taken all this time to react and tell people not to drink tap water until the nature of the risk has been established,” the GSLP/Liberals said in a statement.

“The Opposition did not make these complaints public earlier because it was unable to establish the nature of the contamination and, as is always the case, seeks to establish the facts before it brings matters into the public domain.”

Tests on the quality of drinking water are carried out regularly in the hospital, though these do not include checking copper levels as a matter of routine.

Dr David McCutcheon, the GHA’s chief executive, said the recent copper tests were conducted as part of preparatory work relating to the hospital’s new dialysis machine and following recent reports of ‘cloudy water’ in parts of the hospital.

Prior to that, the last time copper levels in drinking water were checked was at the handover of the building, he said.

Despite the reassurances from the GHA that there was no need for concern and that the problem was being addressed, the Opposition remained unconvinced.

“No doubt the Government will say that these are teething problems and that it is normal when a new hospital is open that high levels of copper should be found in the water supply, since this is their stock answer for every problem at the hospital,” the GSLP/Liberals said.

“As far as the Opposition is concerned, it is totally unacceptable that these sorts of problems should continue to be plaguing the most expensive hospital in Europe.”


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