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Ron Bendell: Latest university research I just find hard to swallow

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: August 29, 2012

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Remember the drought? How in the east of Britain they were considering setting up temporary prison camps to house folk who had the gall to water their petunias and even in the soggy South West there were dark murmurings of catastrophe just round the corner?

A three-month monsoon has put an end to all that, of course, although with a warm, dry September forecast watch out for warnings of standpipes and rationing in just a few weeks. We can only hope that in the meantime the water companies have had the foresight to send the office junior round to B&Q to buy a few water butts to stockpile some of the precious resource.

But whatever engineering feats, large or small, they have up their sleeves it is the ordinary householder who will have to foot the bill. Unless you have your own supply, that is.

The Westcountry has one of the highest rates of domestic self-sufficiency in water – and at the other end drainage – with hundred of thousands of people kitted out with pumps, wells and bore holes and the ability to tell big business to stuff their bills.

Going it alone, however, can bring doubts and misgivings. My own well, for instance, is just over the hedge in the field next door used each year as a nursery for ewes and lambs. Once the little darlings are old enough and brave enough to wander away from mum they like to congregate on the well's concrete top where, not being house trained, they do what lambs do. The inspection cover is none too tight and while their frolicking brings pleasure it's best not to think over much about what goes into those ice cubes for the early evening gin and tonic.

If you've ever had similar worries my advice is drink up and carry on – and if the thoughts persist continue the treatment as necessary.

The prospective buyer of a house I was once trying to sell on Dartmoor was foolish enough to have the well water there tested and when the report came back from the lab it was found to contain enough arsenic and other nasty stuff to poison a small town. I pointed out that I seemed in perfect health and two previous occupiers of many decades had both received telegrams from the Queen but he wasn't happy.

Thankfully the sale went through, although I'm sure that soon after he had a bore hole sunk which would have cost thousands. But apparently he needn't have bothered – the stuff from below was probably just as unhealthy as the witch's brew on the surface.

Scientists have found that the water brought through pipes forced sometimes hundreds of feet down into the earth may look clean and appetising but much of it carries deadly bugs and as many as 300,000 people across Britain are at potential risk. Children who use these and other private supplies are in particular danger being five times more likely than those on the mains to get stomach infections leading to vomiting and diarrhoea.

A team from the University of East Anglia tested 600 water sources and discovered that almost half of them contained bacteria found in faeces such as E.coli and Enterococci. Both hospital stays and mortality rates rise as a result and they recommended chlorination, filtration or simply switching to bottled water instead.

Personally, I blame the lambs – and you have to admit it's a pretty scary story. Until, that is, you look around at the evidence of your eyes rather than the evidence of the test tube.

Let's not doubt for one second the probity of the University's boffins but if the problem is as real as they say surely there would be people amongst us dropping like flies and a steady flow of ambulances heading towards children's wards with a cargo of kids who, for once, took a swig from the tap rather than the Cola bottle?

Anecdotal, of course, but it does seem that those who drink from a crusty old well or simply chuck a bucket in the stream at the bottom of the orchard seem to live longer and healthier lives than those who depend on those nice people from the Water Board. Eating that peck of dirt we are all destined to consume can clearly bring benefits.

Above all, when the inevitable drought again descends you will be able to use the well or bore hole water with impunity. And it will be free – so if any health niggles continue you will be able to afford to leave out the ice cubes and replace the lost volume with more gin. Cheers!

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