Groundwater contamination

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Groundwater contamination

There is a widespread perception that pit latrines should not be used in areas where the groundwater is used
for domestic water consumption. South Africa=s groundwater protocol does not forbid pit latrines in such
areas, but advises caution and moreover recommends that pit latrines are located at least 75 metres from
water sources.

This paper describes local and international research in this field, and examines the justification of the 75
metre rule. What exactly are the hazards posed by pit latrines, and what are the real risk situations?
The paper describes field research which has been conducted in the Maputaland area of KwaZulu-Natal,
where there are large numbers of both pit latrines and shallow wells. The paper describes the observations
of water quality in a range of well types spread throughout the area, and also describes the water quality in the
groundwater sampled close to pit latrines. The latter were monitored for faecal coliform bacteria and nitrates.

The paper concludes that a fine sandy soil is an effective filter medium and that pit latrines pose a negligible
health risk in such an area, with the safe distance for water abstraction being more like 20 metres. The paper
shows that water quality in wells depends on well design and how the well is used. The paper shows that
properly designed and maintained wells produce water of good quality.

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