Residents of Greater Manchester are not ‘being poisoned’ by their water company

12 August 2022
What was claimed

A Facebook post claims a Freedom of Information request has revealed that customers of a major water company in Greater Manchester are “being poisoned”.

Our verdict

The post shows concentrations of all chemicals tested are within legal limits.

A Facebook post which claims that customers of a major water company are “being poisoned” is false. 

The post, which at the time of writing has been shared more than 6,000 times, says: “If you are currently paying for your water supply and drinking the water that comes through your tap, then I would maybe think again, I have just had a Freedom Of Information Request returned from United Utilities, We are being poisoned.”

The post then goes on to list a number of substances that have been found in the water supply, including arsenic, cyanide, lead and mercury, and urges the reader to research the “short and long term problems they cause within the body”. 

This is accompanied by a photograph of two sheets of paper containing a list of 48 tests conducted on the water supply in the Atherton/Tyldsley area in Greater Manchester as of 22 July 2022.

But further scrutiny of the test results show that out of more than 1,500 tests on a range of chemicals and water qualities, none failed the regulatory standards, meaning that all fell within the legal limits

A spokesperson for United Utilities told Full Fact: “There is absolutely no truth in the suggestion that the water we supply is harmful.”

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What did the results show?

Full Fact shared the claims made with the Drinking Water Inspectorate, an independent body which regulates drinking water in England and Wales. 

A spokesperson said the post showed that “all parameters were 100% compliant with the standards, ie all parameters met the stringent regulatory standards.”

They added: “Drinking water in England is of a very high quality and consumers should have confidence in their water supply.”

One of the chemicals mentioned in the post is arsenic, which occurs naturally in some foods and all drinking water. It is  only a source of concern in countries such as Bangladesh where levels in water in some areas reach 50 parts per billion (ppb), five times higher than the World Health Organisation upper guideline value of 10 ppb. 

The United Utilities water sample in the post had an average arsenic concentration of less than 0.4 ppb. 

Concentrations of cyanide, lead and mercury were all found to be at around a tenth of the regulatory limit.

Rather than needing to submit a Freedom of Information request to access this information, the same localised data can be obtained by any of United Utilities’ customers simply by entering their postcodes into its website

A spokesperson for United Utilities confirmed the company had not received any Freedom of Information requests of this nature.  

They added: “We continuously monitor the quality of the water that we supply at every stage of the process, from our water treatment works through to customers’ taps.  The water quality regulations set out an extensive list of substances that we need to check for, and permitted levels are based on World Health Organisation guideline values which take into account lifetime consumption of the water supply.

“The photos in these posts show a summary of the water quality test results over the last 12 months for one of our water supply zones and this data is freely available through our external website.  The results show that the water meets all of the strict standards we would expect.”

Image courtesy of Andres Siimon

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