Exposure to chemicals in Malta’s tap water is linked to almost a fifth of all bladder cancer cases, a study published on Thursday revealed. 

The situation in Malta is among the worst in Europe, with both the amount of chemicals in the water and the associated bladder cancer risks being the second-highest compared to those in other EU states. 

Published on Thursday in the US journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the large-scale study was led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

Data from 2005 to 2018 was obtained from EU member states to cover 75% of Europe’s population. 

The authors reviewed the data to analyse the unintended consequences of water disinfection – scientifically referred to as trihalomethanes (THMs). They then estimated the burden of disease for bladder cancer attributable to exposure to these chemical compounds.

According to their findings, Malta’s tap water was found to contain the second-highest amount of THMs – 49.4 μg/L. Only the water in Cyprus was deemed worse off than that in Malta, with 66.2 μg/L.

The researchers also found that the exposure to bladder cancer as a result of the chemicals could be reduced by almost 18% if exposure is reduced. Malta uses chlorine to disinfect its water. 

What can be done to sort out issue?

In their concluding remarks, the researchers said that the number of bladder cancer cases as a result of the THM exposure could be avoided by "optimising water treatment, disinfection, and distribution, among other measures, without compromising the microbiological quality of water. 

"The main efforts in reduction of THM levels should be made in countries with the highest proportion of exceedance and highest average THM levels."         

Water Services Corporation reacts

Reacting, a spokesman for the Water Services Corporation said Malta never exceeded the limit of 100 µg/litre THMs set by the EU. 

“This is also confirmed in the quoted scientific paper, therefore there is no reason for alarm. Moreover, when the paper makes health-related inferences, it states that there is only a ‘casual association between bladder cancer and THM exposure’,” the spokesman said. 

The report actually states that: "Assuming a causal association, current levels in certain countries still could lead to a considerable burden of bladder cancer that could potentially be avoided by optimising water treatment, disinfection, and distribution practices, among other possible measures."

Video: Water Services Corporation

The corporation, which later also issued the video above, is currently investing heavily in improving the water well beyond EU established limits, he said. 

“This will not only result in a remarkable improvement in taste but also in a further reduction in THM levels. This is part of the €150 million EU-funded major project ‘Towards a Net Zero-Impact Utility’ and other initiatives currently being implemented by the WSC,” he said.

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