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Treatment systems installed on Pulau Ubin to provide safe drinking water

SINGAPORE — With the installation of water treatment systems at food establishments at Pulau Ubin, two food operators now have safe treated water that they will be able to use for the preparation of retail food and drinks.

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SINGAPORE — With the installation of water treatment systems at food establishments at Pulau Ubin, two food operators now have safe treated water for the preparation of retail food and drinks.

Last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) had required that water from the wells of Pulau Ubin — which receives around 300,000 visitors annually — be boiled for at least a minute before used for the preparation of retail food and drinks. 

This is because latest tests samples of well water showed traces of E.coli bacteria and total coliform bacteria that could result in symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea and fever.

But after the installation of water treatment systems at three of the seven licensed retail food establishments earlier this month, two of the three operations now have safe treated water. The third food retailer is currently undergoing testing for its treated water, while a fourth water treatment system will be installed at another food outlet. 

Over the next two weeks, there are also plans to install a water pipe from each of these four eateries to allow other Pulau Ubin residents to retrieve potable water, said Dr Maliki Osman, Member of Parliament for East Coast GRC, who spoke to reporters today (Jan 31).

Dr Maliki, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, said business owners have revealed that earnings have dropped by 20 to 30 per cent after news broke about water safety concerns. They also faced the additional utilities cost of having to boil water frequently, such as for the washing of vegetables.

“This (water treatment system) is an interim (measure) to restore public confidence in the food prepared at these establishments,” he added.

The initiative to install water treatment systems on Pulau Ubin was mooted by the Siglap Citizens’ Consultative Committee and non-governmental organisation Corporate Citizen Foundation. 

National water agency PUB provided technical advice on the installation of the water treatment systems at these retail food establishments.

HSL Construction sponsored the water treatment systems, costing around S$7,000 each, while social enterprise WISE INC is coordinating the project pro bono. Moving forward, the food retailers will have to spend around S$500 to S$600 every year to maintain the system.

The seven-step water treatment system starts with a strainer that removes large particles, and ends with a UV light steriliser to inactivate viruses and other microorganisms. Maintenance includes daily flushing for 15 minutes every evening to remove dirty particles, and cleaning the filters every week. 

Dr Maliki said the long-term plan is to bring in water treatment units for the island’s inhabitants, while also “striking a balance between the modern facilities (and) to keep (the island) as rustic as possible”.

Food retailers interviewed recounted the hassle of boiling water frequently and storing large amounts of it to keep their businesses going. 

Ms Goh Sin Eng, 65, who owns Sim Lam Huat at 20 Pulau Ubin, said it remains to be seen if the additional utility cost from boiling water exceeds the yearly maintenance fee of the water treatment system. But she added: “It is definitely more fuss-free now … it is also easy to maintain just by switching on the flush every day.”

Drinks and provision shop assistant Chew York Kuan, 53, said that business takings had fallen sharply. “People don’t even want to buy our bottled water as they feared it might be contaminated … hopefully with this news (of safe treated water), business will go back to normal soon,” she said.

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