Clean water is one of the most fundamental requirements of human health. Whether it is used for drinking, cooking, washing or recreation, we all expect our water to be safe. If it is not, micro-organisms can cause health problems ranging from a mild stomach upset to a serious illness such as cryptosporidiosis, and chemicals can cause poisoning.
Local authority environmental health practitioners are involved in protecting water quality in their areas. As well as sampling the public water supply from time to time, they are responsible for identifying and checking private water supplies. Where quality standards fall below those required, EHPs work with the water providers to minimise risks to health.
However, having a safe water supply is no good if people cannot afford to pay for it. The CIEH was instrumental in ending the disconnection of domestic consumers in debt. As the real price of water has risen in recent years, the CIEH has lobbied government to recognise water poverty as a growing problem, and to develop policies to reduce the number of households affected. We have resisted the spread of metering due to its effects on affordability and access, calling instead for equity in charging methods. The CIEH has promoted action to reduce water need through such mechanisms as a new Water Saving Trust.
EHPs have some responsibilities for waste water too, both ‘grey’ water and sewage, with powers to deal with defective and insufficient drains, cesspits and small treatment plants.