Watering down public panicWho would dare to drink tap water from a river polluted with green slime? Concerns are mounting over the proliferation of algal blooms in rivers across the nation, including the Han River that serves as a source of potable water for 10 million citizens in the capital.
The public has been caught up in a sense of panic after authorities issued warnings for the first time in four years due to the spread of algae in some sections of the Han.
Health authorities continue to assure people that the water is safe to drink as long as it is properly boiled first, but fears have not been allayed that it still may pose a threat to vulnerable groups such as small children, pregnant women and the elderly.
The algal blooms that can cause toxins harmful to marine organisms and humans may continue to fester for a while due to the ongoing heat wave that has gripped the nation.
As a stopgap measure, the Ministry of Land, Transportation, and Maritime Affairs opened the floodgates in a bid to dilute the green tides by releasing water from upriver reservoirs. The Ministry of Environment pitched in by reinforcing its filtration systems and working to weed out heavy concentrations of algae in rivers and lakes.
The government is also contemplating accelerating efforts to upgrade the filtration systems in water supply tanks so they are better equipped to kill toxic elements, as well as strengthening its surveillance of algal blooms and better controlling agricultural waste.
However, even these are unlikely to relieve public anxiety over the water supply.
First, authorities need to determine the root cause of the green tides based on scientific investigations. Public action plans must then be mapped out, and an effective control system put in place to stop the blooms recurring and keep the rivers free of contamination.
The Environment Ministry said it will also conduct quality-control tests with private experts, and all of the information should be presented transparently to appease public anxiety over access to clean water which the UN Assembly defines as a basic human right. Only then will the government have a chance of restoring the public’s trust.