Health Ministry Opposes Gray Water Plan for Households

Ministry says no despite approval of committee to extend use of gray water for gardening, toilets, other uses.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
Ruler indicating Kinneret water levels near Kibbutz Genosar, March 2, 2012.
Ruler indicating Kinneret water levels near Kibbutz Genosar, March 2, 2012.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Health Ministry has demanded that the Standards Institute of Israel not approve a new standard that would broaden the use of gray water.

Although the standard was already approved by a committee of experts at the Standards Institute, Health Ministry officials asked the institute’s director to delay final approval for now.

The experts, for their part, are demanding that the management approve the new standard for gray water as soon as possible.

The purpose of using gray water is to reuse water in many places where water is necessary, such as gardening and flushing toilets (the gray water is piped to the toilet tank), resulting in lower water bills for many households.

Two months ago, a committee of experts at the Standards Institute of Israel approved Standard 6147 for gray-water systems installed in new or existing buildings. The standard is for water collected from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs and washing machines. It does not include water from toilets, kitchen sinks or dishwashers. The standard defines the water quality that must be maintained, the permitted uses of gray water and the means of transporting, treating and inspecting it.

So far, the Health Ministry permitted the use of gray water in several public buildings while setting safety and quality standards intended to keep the public from using polluted water. However, gray-water systems with no set standard have been installed in thousands of homes, contrary to the position of the Health Ministry, which is not convinced that they are safe enough.

The standard set by the experts’ committee was supposed to receive final approval in the form of the signature of Daniel Goldstein, the Standards Institute's director. But Dr. Ronni Gamzu, director-general of the Health Ministry, contacted Goldstein six weeks ago and asked him not to approve the standard.

In his letter, Gamzu said the Health Ministry opposed the standard since the quality and control of the water did not meet his requirements, and this could endanger public health. He wrote that the ministry had completed a series of hearings of a committee that had been established to examine the subject of using gray water.

The committee submitted its recommendations to Health Minister Yael German, and soon the ministry will be examining legislation about sweeping regulation of gray-water use.

“There is no place for setting a standard that opposes the Health Ministry’s position on the matter and that opposes the position presented by the professional committee that the Health Minister appointed to examine the issue,” Gamzu wrote in his letter.

Last month, the committee of experts contacted Goldstein and asked him to sign the standard. They claimed that Gamzu’s letter was a blatant attempt to interfere in the discussions and decisions of independent committees. “After almost four years of work and after all the conditions for preparing the standard had been fulfilled, it does not seem reasonable to us that political elements should interfere in the procedure of establishing standards,” the committee members wrote.

A Standards Institute spokesman said, "The director-general of the Health Ministry has asked for a meeting with the director of the Standards Institute before the standard was approved. We believe that following the meeting, which will take place soon, it will be possible to reach agreements and approve the standard.”

A Health Ministry spokesman commented, “The ministry is not opposed to using gray water. The committee established by the health minister recommended that the matter be promoted, as part of which the use of gray water would be permitted in private homes in addition to public buildings, as has been done until now. The ministry opposes the standard in its current form because it determines the required water-quality data. The subject is under the exclusive authority of the Health Ministry, in accordance with legislation dealing with the consolidation of treated wastewater.”

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