How Safe is Saadiyat Tap Water?

Debates and concerns about drinking unfiltered tap water are not new. What is in our water? Where does it come from? Is it safe to drink? Questions ...

Feb 21, 2015

Debates and concerns about drinking unfiltered tap water are not new. What is in our water? Where does it come from? Is it safe to drink? Questions such as these echo around NYU Abu Dhabi’s campus, where wall-mounted drinking fountains are often within sight of water bottle dispensers. In the same day, one can be both cautioned against drinking fountain water and warned about the impacts of using disposable water bottles.
On 3 Feb., NYUAD’s department of Environmental Health and Safety published an announcement on the Student Portal regarding water tests completed last November. An independent third-party consultancy had collected water samples from 13 locations around campus on 24 Nov. and analyzed them for chemical and biological parameters. The results indicate that water on the Saadiyat campus continues to fall within World Health Organization Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality.
In addition to the occasional independent survey by Lonestar, the water on campus is also tested on a monthly basis by NYUAD service provider Serco.
“They have been testing [the water] ever since we got here and started populating the campus,” said Senior Director of Campus Operations Marcelino Romanos. “And to our knowledge, the results have always been fine.”
The decision to conduct an additional and independent test was merely a precaution in order to be doubly assured of the water quality, explained Environmental Health and Safety Manager John O’Connor.
“We did more than we needed to, but we wanted to be assured of the water we are drinking and of the reports that we have from our service provider,” said O’Connor. “According to the results that we have gotten back, there is no reason not to be confident in the water we are drinking.”
Despite reassurances, however, many students and staff remain reluctant to drink tap water and prefer instead to buy bottled water. Engui Liu, a lecturer of Civil Engineering, said that he makes a conscious effort to avoid drinking tap water whenever possible. Last fall semester, Liu taught an Environmental Engineering and Science course and analyzed various water sources around campus with his students.
Liu’s findings were similar to the test results given to the EHS and Facilities. In both cases, for example, pH levels were found to be around eight, which is within WHO parameters for potable water. Despite his findings, however, Liu said he is still not comfortable drinking tap water.
“Safe to drink depends on a lot of things,” Liu said. “If you drink it, I’m not saying you will die, but to quantify the risk is hard. It depends where the water comes from and the treatment it has had… If we don’t know something, then we don’t have enough information [to make a judgement] and so we become afraid.”
During an interview with The Gazelle, O’Connor confirmed that NYUAD’s water is supplied by the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company. He emphasized that the water flowing through the faucets on campus comes from the same source as the rest of the city’s water and is the same as it was in Sama Tower. The water is piped into campus, held in basement storage tanks and then distributed to the various buildings.
Liu, however, said that he would still rather be overly cautious and avoid tap water whenever he can.
“Since bottled water is not expensive and [easily available], I would recommend that if you are going to directly drink the water, it is better to get it from a bottle,” he said.
In the first two weeks of February, 422 plastic water bottles were sold each day on average around campus. Freshman Ritu Muralidharan, Treasurer of the Student Interest Group Ecoherence and Chair of the Sustainability Committee, pointed out that the number of water bottles consumed each day is probably higher than this figure because it does not take into account water bottles offered at events and talks.
“We most definitely use too many disposable plastic water bottles,” wrote Muralidharan in an email to The Gazelle. “Students, as well as other NYUAD community members, have a number of options to cut down on their plastic water bottle consumption — buying a reusable water bottle … drinking from the water fountains and filling up a glass or mug with water from the water coolers.”
She agreed that drinking tap water is more environmentally friendly than using disposable plastic water bottles and encouraged students to consider doing so. For many students, however, it comes down to a matter of personal preference and taste.
“I try not to [drink tap water],” said senior Judy Mei. “I’m sure it’s safe and it’s not going to do any harm to your body, but I guess I’m privileged enough to be fussy about how my water tastes when I drink it … Most of my friends don’t like to drink the tap water either. They will drink it if it’s been boiled — they don’t mind making tea with it — but if it’s actually just filling up a drinking bottle, than we all use the water coolers.”
Mei pointed out that the reasoning behind choosing either tap or bottled water is oftentimes cultural.
“I think it depends where you grew up,” said Mei. “Some people come from places where you just don’t drink tap water, it’s not in the culture. Some people come from places where perhaps the water quality is worse.”
Junior Hayat Mohammed, who doesn’t have any qualms about drinking tap water, agreed that students tend to continue their habits from home back in Abu Dhabi.
“I always drank tap water back home as well,” she said. “I know some people are not comfortable with drinking the tap water, it’s normal to have those doubts … There are some people who only drink bottled water at home and so tap water doesn’t really seem safe for them. But people who have more access to tap water back home find it more okay to do so here.”
Romanos acknowledged that although results show tap water to be safe to drink, it is nonetheless still a personal choice. He said he is willing to discuss the test results and water quality analysis in more depth if there are still safety concerns from students and staff.
“People have preferences … perhaps [due to] past behaviours or past experiences,” said Romanos. “What we need to do, like we did, is publish the results online and let you guys make the decision.”
Clare Hennig is Features editor. Email her at
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