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The Health Ministry plans to require desalination plants to add magnesium to any drinking water they produce, so that people do not develop dangerous deficiencies of this vital mineral, ministry representatives told the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee yesterday.

Following the committee meeting, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense urged the ministry to publicize the list of towns where magnesium deficiencies are likely.

It also asked the Health Ministry to prepare health impact statements for both existing and planned desalination facilities.

Information presented to the committee by the Knesset's research center showed that about one-fifth of Israel's drinking water currently comes from desalination, and desalinated water contains much lower levels of magnesium than ordinary fresh water.

But even some of Israel's fresh water sources contain lower concentrations of magnesium than fresh water elsewhere in the world, the research showed.

Magnesium is vital both for stabilizing certain cell components and for various bodily processes, including maintaining bone mass and generating energy.

Magnesium is also necessary for the proper functioning of muscles, the nervous system, the heart and the immune system.

The ministry said it has "made a decision in principle to obligate desalination plants to add magnesium. Currently, most desalinated water is mixed with ordinary water, but the recommendation is important in light of the growing use of desalinated water.

"Magnesium concentrations are tested at the water source only, so we have no precise information about magnesium concentrations in different communities," its statement continued. "But currently, there are no towns that receive only desalinated water, which lacks magnesium."