Despite the recommendations of experts, the government has opted not to add magnesium to desalinated water after balking at the prohibitive costs. The treatment had been estimated at a few hundred million shekels.
The decision was made following a meeting Monday night in the economics department of the Prime Minister's Office to determine whether the addition of magnesium should be part of the new regulations on water quality that the Knesset is to vote on soon.
The recommendation to add magnesium to desalinated sea water was made by the committee of experts that prepared the new water quality standards. The Health Ministry made the same recommendation.
The recommendation comes as a response to the expected decline in magnesium following the increased use of desalinated sea water, because magnesium is removed from the water by the desalination process.
"Many studies, some done in Israel, have proved that adding magnesium helps heart function among both the healthy and the sick," Prof. Michael Shechter, of the Cardiac Institute at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, said.
Shechter added that it also reduces the frequency of diabetes and can reduce the tendency to obesity and high blood pressure in children.
Various estimates on the cost of adding the magnesium to the water were presented at the meeting, ranging from NIS 130 million to NIS 500 million.
Magnesium may be added by a number of methods, one of which - developed by the Technion in Haifa - involves producing the element directly from the sea water and adding it to the desalinated water.
Health Ministry representatives at the meeting, who stressed the importance of magnesium to health, said adding it to drinking water was the most efficient way to deliver it.
However, representatives of the Water Authority said the project was very expensive because it could damage the quality of the desalinated water, necessitating the addition of chemicals and compounds that make the water hard. The hard water would coat pipelines with scale, which would have to be removed using electric equipment and piping
The Water Authority representatives said that in many places in the world there is hardly any magnesium in the water, and Israelis get enough magnesium in their food.
They also said there was no point in investing so much money in adding magnesium to the desalinated water when only one percent of that water would be used as drinking water.
The Prime Minister's Office then decided that there was no economic justification for making the addition of magnesium one of the new water regulations.
The Water Authority said on Tuesday that adding magnesium to the water would increase its cost to households by between 23 and 81 agorot per cubic meter.
"We have asked the Health Ministry to study the need to add magnesium by means of a survey it has conducted and accepted standards worldwide. If it is decided to add the magnesium, the most economic way to do so would be examined, whether to the water or to food."
One idea raised was that magnesium be added to flour. However, Shechter said: "Doctors' recommendations are not to increase consumption of flour, which causes obesity. And besides, some people don't eat flour. If [people are not getting] enough magnesium people will be weak, and will have to purchase magnesium additives," he said.
According to the Water Authority, no countries add minerals to desalinated water other than calcite, which Israel also adds.
Israelis consume more magnesium than the recommended standard, the Water Authority said, but even in countries like the United States, where magnesium consumption is very low, no magnesium deficiency has been reported in the population.
But according to Shechter's data, there is enough magnesium in the water in the U.S., and magnesium consumption is going down in Israel.