Residents say burnt by ‘fire’ water at West Watooka
Suspect caustic soda, Water Inc official denies claim By Cathy Wilson
Stabroek News
September 5, 2002

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Some residents of West Watooka, Wismar, Linden say they were burnt about their bodies on Monday evening by water flowing from their taps which they claimed was contaminated with the caustic soda widely used in the bauxite plants in the area.

A senior official at Guyana Water Inc (GWI) in Linden has denied this claim, but admitted that raw (untreated) water had gone through the system, because there was a lack of chlorine and other purifying agents in the area.

Yesterday Stabroek News made several attempts to contact Chief Executive Officer of GWI, Paul Bonar in Georgetown, but was told that he was at a meeting for the greater part of the afternoon. Stabroek News has also been unable to contact the agency’s Public Relations Officer, Javin Singh, despite ringing several times and leaving messages.

Relating his experience, one resident said that the area had been without water supply all Sunday and Monday. Water began flowing through the taps again at around 8:30 p.m. on Monday. “When we heard the water come on, how we were so happy, we race to see who would get to the shower first like ‘lil children,” the man said.

He said that when he turned on the shower the water felt normal. “After about two minutes I started feeling this water coming slimy! I continued to bathe, then I feel my skin start burning, and as I tried to wash off is mo dis thing burning bad, bad.”

The man said that when he realised that it was the water, which was causing the burning sensation he ran out the bathroom screaming for help. He said his brother ran downstairs and helped pour water on him. This was taken from a drum, which the family had stored. He said that after relating the incident to his family they decided to fill a large bottle from the tap and discovered that the water had an unusually dark colour and a caustic odour.

A young woman then decided to “test” the water “fo mek sure that it was caustic,” and poured a little on her hand. That was a mistake, she said, “til now meh hand burning bad.”

Another woman told Stabroek News that at around 8:45 p.m. on Monday she realised that the water supply had returned and decided to take a shower. “I noticed that the water had this dark colour,” she said, but she didn’t pay much attention to it.

The woman said that as she was bathing the water made her skin feel slimy. “When I was washing between meh legs I feel meh skin peeling off plenty and it start burning really bad.

All over meh back and face start biting like.” According to the resident she desisted from using the tap water and washed herself with stored water. She said that she is currently on skin treatment from a medical doctor. Another woman also complained that she was burnt in the vaginal area. According to her, she was forced to plunge overboard to relieve herself of the burning.

Mayor of Linden, Stan Smith, visited the affected residents yesterday morning.

He told this newspaper that he had spoken with Leroy Rose at the GWI Linden office.

According to Smith, Rose said that the water treatment plant at West Watooka was not in perfect working order. “When I spoke with Mr Rose who is the number two man at the water treatment plant, I got the impression that there is some query as regards the complaint made by the residents.

He is saying that [there is] no way caustic [soda] could get into the water. He admitted that some raw water did go through the system because they did not have the chlorine to treat the water and the other stuff to purify the water.”

According to Smith, Rose said he suspected that the water was causing itching of the skin.

The mayor said Rose apologised for sending raw water to residents and took samples of the water to be tested by analysts. The mayor said that he was organising a meeting of the Regional Democratic Council of Region Ten to address the issue. He also indicated that they would be summoning GWI to a meeting.

According to Smith, GWI must compensate those persons who suffered burns and skin irritation from the contaminated water. Residents claimed that the polluted water ran through the taps for more than one hour. They said that they had a similar experience earlier this year.