Israel's Drinking Water Standards to Be Upgraded

Regulations reduce the permitted concentration of heavy metals and pesticides.

The Knesset's Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Wednesday ratified stricter regulations for the quality of drinking water, placing Israel on par with the United States and Europe.

The new rules stipulate, among other things, that fluoride be added to drinking water for at least a limited period of time and that magnesium be added to desalinated water on an experimental basis.

The regulations reduce the permitted concentration in water of heavy metals and pesticides, many of which are carcinogenic and can cause damage to the nervous system and kidneys. In addition, according to the new rules, not even one microbe will be permitted in a 10 milliliter water sample, thus bringing the Israeli standard up to the American one.

The addition of fluoride and magnesium to drinking water were the most controversial issues under discussion. The Health Ministry insisted that fluoride be added in order to prevent tooth decay, but environmentalists and water experts argued against it, because fluoride has a series of negative health effects.

The committee accepted chairman Amnon Cohen's suggestion that fluoride should be added to drinking water for one year, after which the Health Ministry will review the effects and the issue will be reexamined.

The Health Ministry also wanted magnesium added to desalinated water, because it is an essential mineral for cardiac health, regulates heart rhythm, clots blood and assists the body in producing and using insulin (magnesium deficiency can cause heart disease, weight gain and diabetes ). But the Water Authority claimed adding magnesium was unnecessary, would involve high costs and could harm the water's quality.

Ultimately the committee decided, at the ministry's suggestion, to set up an experimental facility at one of the desalination plants. After three years the ministry will report the results and operation costs to the committee.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense was one of the groups pushing to approve the new regulations.