COMMERCIAL DRINKING WATER QUALITY AND SAFETY IN BO CITY, SIERRA LEONE
Many people who lack reliable access to a quality and safe drinking water source in or near the home rely on commercial drinking water products, such as machine-filled sachet water, that may be of variable quality.
A participatory geographic information system was used in conjunction with distribution point and vendor census in the study area to identify a total of 36 water sources across Bo city that are used for commercial water production. These include 6 water sources and the production facilities for 10 brands of machine-filled factory-produced water sachets as well as the 10 sources and finished samples for 10hand-tied plastic-bagged water producers. Water samples from all 16 water sources and 20 commercial water products purchased from randomly-selected retail outlets and street vendors were tested for microbiological and physicochemical properties. Workers at all of these facilities were also interviewed about their knowledge and practices.
All of the machine-filled sachet waters were free of microbial contamination, but several of the hand- tied water sachets, all filled from unlined local wells, and had coliform bacteria. Both machine-filled sachet water and hand-tied sachet water had pH levels that were below the World Health Organization’s recommended range. Water with acidic pH can cause corrosion of the metal pipes used with wells and can release those potentially harmful minerals into drinking water. Water factory workers used a variety of water treatment methods to purify their products; hand-tied sachets generally used only cloth filters to purify the water and often stored water in open containers.
Improved quality of commercial water products would improve health in Sierra Leone.