No reported illness from diners at Pulau Ubin

Carolyn Khew My Paper AsiaOne 23 Dec 15;

NO ONE has reported falling sick from dining at food establishments on Pulau Ubin despite authorities having found a deterioration in the water quality on the island.

But all retail food outlets - believed to be fewer than 10 - must now boil water from their wells continuously for at least one minute before using it to prepare food and drinks for sale.

This is according to a joint statement on Monday from the National Environment Agency (NEA), national water agency PUB, National Parks Board and the Singapore Land Authority.

Alternatively, the outlets may also use bottled water or PUB water piped from mainland Singapore.

In response to queries yesterday, an NEA spokesman confirmed there has not been a reported case of food- or water-related health incidents associated with Pulau Ubin in the past five years.

The Straits Times understands the order for food outlets on the island was made after routine checks by NEA on the island.

Without elaborating on what it had found, it said the quality of well water could have deteriorated because of contamination with animal or human waste or surface run-off from contaminated soil.

According to village chief Chu Yok Choon, 70, all residents use well water for their daily needs.

Residents told The Straits Times they drew water from wells in their backyards. One uses a motor pump to fill containers in his home.

Authorities said in its advisory on Monday that water from the taps is drawn from wells and is not potable without further treatment. Signs are up to remind visitors not to drink water straight out of the taps.

In a letter to a retail outlet that was seen by The Straits Times, NEA's director-general of public health Derek Ho said operators of retail food establishments had to comply with the requirement or face "strict enforcement action" if they are found selling food unfit to be eaten because they had not complied.

Goh Lai Guat, 60, who runs an eatery with her sister on Pulau Ubin, said she would use boiled water from now on for washing utensils as well as vegetables before serving meals to customers.

"Before this, we would boil well water only for drinking. But since NEA has told us, we have to change our way of doing things," she said.

Many residents said the advisory would have little impact on them since they already boil the water from their wells before they drink it.

At least one resident, 63-year-old retiree Chua Keng Beng, said he had long switched to using more hygienic bottled water instead.

Other old-timers, like Ahmad Kassim, an 80-year-old drinks stall owner, will have none of that. He draws from two wells just opposite his home.

Mr Kassim boils the water to drink but just to show that he believes it is safe, he took a sip straight from the well yesterday, saying: "I have been drinking the water for 80 years and nothing has happened to me."

Pulau Ubin residents 'not worried' about well water quality
Having to use bottled instead of well water will also not affect businesses on the island as they have always served the former to customers, says one shop owner.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 22 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE: The quality of water in Pulau Ubin has deteriorated, and residents and business owners there told Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday (Dec 22) that they will take steps to protect themselves and visitors.

Authorities on Monday had advised the public not to consume water directly from its wells and taps, and use bottled water or PUB water from the mainland instead. They also said well water on the island should be boiled continuously for at least one minute before consumption.

Village chief Chu Yok Choon, said the residents have used the island's well water their whole lives. He has met the authorities, and went to each household to inform them of the advisory.

"We do take precautions when using it. The wells are five metres deep and collect rain and groundwater, but no one draws water directly from them anymore - the water is pumped directly into their taps," said the village chief.

He added that residents always boil the water before usage. "Now NEA says the water is dirty, but we don't know how bad it is. They didn't tell us the condition of the water and how it has deteriorated. We're only told we should boil the water for one minute before using, even if it is just to rinse our mouth," he explained.

Eighty-year-old Mdm Zhou, a shop owner who has lived on Pulau Ubin for 60 years, also said she was not afraid nor concerned about the deteriorating water. She also said she was used to using well water, not bottled water as recommended by NEA.

Another shop owner, Ng Ngak Heng, said she will increase orders of bottled water from 80 to 100 cartons to cater to demand, although she was not worried about the quality of well water.

However, another shop owner who declined to be named, said he did not expect demand for bottled water to increase substantially: "Restaurants here don't provide well water to visitors anyway - they've always sold bottled water, so the deterioration of well water quality won't affect business and doesn't make a difference."

Authorities told Channel NewsAsia on Monday that the Government has been exploring the use of on-site water treatment units to help improve access to potable water on the island.

Mr Chu said he supports the idea because using bottled water all the time is "expensive" and "not feasible because there are many residents (at) Ubin - about 70 households".

There are about 20 wells on the island, and several households would share each well, according to Mr Chu.


Outdoor educational institution Outward Bound Singapore (OBS), which sees about 10,000 participants every year, is also located on Pulau Ubin. It said its water supply is not affected as it has its own reservoir.

The reservoir holds about 30,000 cubic metres of water - about the size of 10 swimming pools - and it has been in operation since 1995. It is situated in the middle of OBS' two campsites. The reservoir consists mostly of rainwater and the water is pumped to both locations for use.

"We have our own water treatment plant, filtration systems and all that, so the water is treated and managed by OBS, and all water that is coming into our campuses is treated and potable,” said OBS’ director of Training and Operations B Elamaaran.

Every day, OBS staff members test the pH, acidity, alkaline and chlorine levels in the water that is pumped into the campus. Its maintenance contractors also come each month to do a review. On top of that, NEA does quarterly checks to determine the water quality there. But while its water supply is safe, OBS has no plans to provide water to Ubin Village.

"The current reservoir, the capacity is limited, and it's enough to sustain just OBS operations for Camp 1 and Camp 2. So there are no plans, and there never was, to help give water supply to Ubin Village. Also, we don't have drinking pipes or water pipes laid all the way to the eastern side for that to happen,” said Mr Elamaaran.

The OBS campus and Ubin Village are about 8 kilometres apart, according to staff. OBS added it has an arrangement with the authorities to get water from the mainland when water levels are low, or when there is a water crisis.

- CNA/hs

No ripples of unease over Pulau Ubin’s water quality issue
TOH EE MING Today Online 22 Dec 15;

SINGAPORE — There are creatures that might prove disruptive to the daily lives of Pulau Ubin residents, such as wild boars and mosquitoes, but water contaminants are seemingly not some of these, especially when residents do not have much information on these microbes.

Despite the latest advisory issued by Government agencies that the quality of the water in the island’s wells has deteriorated, Ubin residents who spoke to TODAY say they have already been taking precautions in ensuring they have clean water, and do not see it as a major cause for concern.

While most of those interviewed make it a habit to boil the water before drinking or using it to cook and wash dishes, crab catcher Quek Kim Kiang, 63, said he had been drinking straight from the well by his house — and he would continue to do so despite the advisory.

“If they can confirm that the water is undrinkable, or can give concrete evidence on how it has been contaminated, (I might listen) … The only thing I’m worried about is the well water breeding mosquitoes,” he said.

A joint media statement by the National Environment Agency (NEA), national water agency PUB, the Singapore Land Authority and National Parks Board, had advised residents to boil well water for at least a minute before consumption, and suggested alternatives such as using bottled water or PUB water from the mainland.

NEA has not responded to questions from TODAY on what contaminants were found in the water. Village chief Chu Yok Choon, 70, said that there are about 20 wells on the island, and several households would share each well.

The prevailing sentiment among the Ubin residents is that they see no real need to change their ways.

Madam Ong Siew Fong, 72, said she boils water for drinking or washing vegetables. “We’ve been living here all our lives, and we’re still fine … We haven’t heard of anyone falling sick because of the water yet,” she said in Mandarin.

She has relied on electric generators for years to pump water from a 2m-deep well by her home at Wei Tuo Temple. The well water is stored in about three large storage tanks for her family, and then channelled to the taps at home.

On occasion, she recalled, the water supply would be affected when wild boars damage the pipes. To mop the temple grounds or water plants, she uses collected rainwater.

Van driver Ong Kim Cheng, 57, said: “We’re used to it … As long as we ensure water is boiled properly, I’m not that scared.”

Likewise, Madam Ng Ngak Heng, 66, a store owner, said she was not worried about declining water quality, though she might order more bottled water for customers, or use it to wash crockery.

For Madam Yeo Hui Qing, 60, who runs a bicycle rental shop, she said it is too costly to keep using boiled water for daily activities such as washing her face. “It might be good if the Government can supply water directly to us, or if they do some water treatment for us.”

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