Hospitals are supposed to be beacons of health, but one facility in Japan woke up to a public relations nightmare last month when it discovered that its drinking water was connected to the toilet. The problem first arose nearly 30 years ago when the hospital was built in 1993, but it took decades for anyone to notice something was wrong. The scandal has patients and staff on edge about their health.
Osaka University Hospital said patients and staff have been drinking, washing, and gargling with water originally meant for the toilet for decades.
A local news outlet first reported the incident on Oct 20, spurring widespread concern. Officials said that some of the tap water pipes in certain areas of the school’s department were installed incorrectly. Around 120 well water taps that were originally meant for the bathroom have been used for drinking and washing. While the problem has been there for years, administrators said no health hazards have been confirmed.
The issue didn’t come to light until the hospital decided to build a new treatment and diagnosis building. It was then discovered during a routine inspection.
Even though the water comes from an unusual source, officials said they test the color, taste, and smell of the water at least once a week to make sure it’s safe to consume. Records of these inspections show there hasn’t been an issue with the water since 2014.
Director and Vice President Kazuhiko Nakatani of the hospital apologized to the community during a recent press conference. “I am very sorry that the university hospital that provides advanced medical care has caused anxiety,” he said through a translator.
Is It Dangerous?
Experts say the issue might be overblown. In most settings, the water that fills up the toilet comes from the same source as the water that comes into the shower or sink. Most of us sip water from the sink or bathe with this water without a second thought. The water used in the toilet is usually safe to drink. It only gets dirty once it ends up in the toilet.
If the idea of drinking water that’s meant for the bathroom sends shivers down your spine, consider the idea of drinking recycled water.
Experts believe recycling water is the future. Water that’s been used in the toilet is being filtered and treated until it’s safe to drink again. Some call it “toilet-to-tap” water, but it’s actually safe to drink, if not a little sweeter than well water.
Peter Scales, a chemical engineer at the University of Melbourne in Australia, says that if the average city recycled all its wastewater, it could reduce its consumption by 60%.
A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania surveyed 2,000 Americans on how they feel about drinking recycled water. 49% said they were willing to try recycled wastewater, while another 13% refused, and the rest weren’t sure.
As climate change gets worse, more communities and nations will likely implement some type of water recycling program in the years to come.
The process is simple. First, they filter out all of the solids and other gunk in the water. Then, they use a process called reverse osmosis to filter out the tiniest of particles. Finally, they flash the water with ultraviolet light to sterilize pathogenic microbes.
The recycled water revolution may be coming sooner than you think.
“Trying to do augmentation from something like wastewater or storm-water in the middle of a drought is not going to get you there,” Scales says. “You need to actually do it across a period of time where the population assimilates to it. And then they just use it.”