Around 70 percent of Cambodians depend on surface water sources that are vulnerable to fecal matter, which officials during the second day of a workshop on formulating national water-quality standards called the biggest health threat to drinking water. Blue-green algae blooms were also cited Tuesday as a threat to Cambodian drinking water.
Gene Peralta, an environmental engineer from the World Health Organization, said toxins from certain kinds of algae can lead to liver cancer. The toxin, known as Microcystic-LR, is “an emerging concern in Cambodia in both urban and rural areas using surface water for drinking,” Peralta said. Cambodian scientists must identify which are the most common harmful bacteria, toxic metals or pesticides, and test for them routinely, Peralta said.
Officials at several ministries called for national and provincial laboratories to test for water quality. Existing labs often produce contradictory results, said Peng Navuth, a scientist with the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy. But Peralta said Cambodian scientists may not have the training to operate the sophisticated equipment in such labs. Much testing can be done with simple kits, she said. Some prevention measures are fairly cheap, said WHO consultant Steven Iddings. Local officials or volunteers could be trained to identify unsanitary conditions such as cracked wells or animal pens located upstream of water sources, he said.
Education can also play a role, Peng Navuth said. “We can teach people that it’s better to spend money on clean water than to spend money curing a disease.”
A committee with officials from the five ministries that have water-related responsibilities will make the final decision on standards, Peng Navuth said.