High Levels of E Coli Found in Sesan River Water Tests

New research has found high levels of dangerous E coli bacteria in Ratanakkiri province’s Sesan River, the provincial health department said yesterday.

Local civil society groups confirmed river communities were experiencing health problems due to poor water quality, adding this problem had previously occurred during the dry season, but it was now the first time water quality had dropped during the rainy season.

Sim Khanlai, Ratanakkiri Health Department director, said he sent a water sample taken in December to the Institute Pasteur in Phnom Penh for analysis, following complaints about the water by local villagers. Recently completed laboratory tests, he said, found high levels of E coli bacteria- 44 units per millimeter- while the World Health Organization safety standard is 0 units p/ml.

“If villagers drink this water they should boil it, if they drink it unboiled they will get diarrhea,” Mr Khanlai said. “They should bathe with soap, if they don’t use soap they get itchy skin because the water contains 44 [bacteria units] per milliliter.”

He said water quality was poor because it had remained stagnant in the reservoir of the Yalli Falls dam upstream in Vietnam. He added, however, that no water quality test result from before the dam’s construction were available for comparison. Mr Khanlai said he reported the findings to the provincial authorities, but said his department had no funds available to warn communities about proper river water usage.

Meach Mean, 3S-River Network coordinator, said the results confirmed his observation that water quality was poor during this rainy season, adding communities had already been suffering health issues from low water quality during the dry season since the Yalli Falls dam was built in 2001.

“Normally after the rains, the water is very clear, but now it’s very dirty,” he said. “After the Ketsana flood, many people have a lot of disease, lots of skin disease,” Mr Mean said, adding that for tens of thousands of families living along the Sesan, the river was their main source of water.

Nong Darith, Andong Meas district governor, said he observed the Sesan river water was unusually cloudy and brown for this time of year. Mr Darith said he thought that the overflowing of the Yalli Falls dam reservoir during Typhoon Ketsana in September had caused many plants to rot away in the reservoir water, turning it brown with organic particles.

In September, research on the river by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences announced it had analyzed water from the 2008 dry season and found toxic levels of algae and high concentration of E coli bacteria. The study linked the findings to hydropower reservoirs upstream in Vietnam.


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