ByJudy Siegel-Itzkovich
21 January 2017 22:17

Bureaucracy delays supplementation to desalinated water • Plan’s cost has been debated for 8 years.

An estimated 4,000 Israelis die in an average year due to an inadequate amount of magnesium in their bodies – and the amount they get from natural potable water sources is increasingly declining due to the growing desalination of sea water. The figure is 10-fold the death toll from road accidents.

Magnesium Awareness Week will be held in February to impress on doctors and their patients the need for magnesium supplementation, put the subject on the public agenda and push the government to add necessary amounts of the mineral to drinking water. Among the disorders that can result from inadequate intake of magnesium are heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and diabetes.

The Health Ministry commented on Thursday that its position on magnesium supplementation had not changed, and that magnesium should be added to desalinated water. “The question is the cost, how applicable it is and whether it’s possible despite technical problems. We are now in the middle of a public tender for running a pilot that will estimate the cost and applicability,” the ministry said.

However, in May 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-deputy health minister Ya’acov Litzman, announced that they were launching a pilot project in Ashkelon to restore magnesium to drinking water that is lost in the process of desalination.

Ashkelon was chosen for the first stage since residents depended solely on desalinated water there in 2012.

Ministry officials said then that the project was regarded as urgent due to the increasing share of purified sea water that is being used for drinking. Israel has desalinated more of its water supply than any other country in the world.

Asked the reason for the delay, ministry associate director-general and public health chief Prof. Itamar Grotto the ministry is “highly efficient. What is up to us, we do very fast. But others are responsible for the delay in starting the pilot.” Grotto did not, however, say who was to blame for the long postponement.

Magnesium is a mineral that is vital to health because, as research has shown, it maintains the heartbeat and thus prevents heart attacks.

It is estimated that each year, many lives would be saved by regular consumption of magnesium in desalinated water, in either regular rainwater or bottled mineral water.

There has been no controversy about adding the magnesium from a health perspective, but the cost has been debated for some eight years – with the Treasury and the Water Authority on one side, and the Health Ministry on the other. The Water Authority maintains that adding the mineral would cost hundreds of millions of shekels annually, thus significantly hiking the consumer price of tap water, which is already high.

The Health Ministry counters that the cost will be much lower.

In a lecture, Prof. Michael Shechter, head of the cardiology research department at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, said that in areas of the world where there is no magnesium in the water and the population does not consume enough of the mineral, there has been a significant rise in the rate per million residents of deaths from cardiovascular diseases. Magnesium, he said, is involved in the process of producing energy, preserving the genetic code and protecting the heart and blood vessels. “The average Israeli does not get enough magnesium to protect his body,” he added. The average person naturally has 25 milligrams of magnesium in his body, but needs to consume between 320 mg. and 350 mg. daily to supplement that amount. If he gets 150 mg. to 200 mg. from his food intake, he still has a significant deficit.

While supplements in pill form are sold (cheaper from health fund pharmacies), the Health Ministry prefers that it be added to the drinking water in areas dependent on desalinated water.

The ministry has also not finished the process of restoring fluoridation of the country’s water to protect teeth, especially of children. Thenhealth minister MK Yael German instructed officials to bring a halt to fluoridation, against the advice of all public health experts in her ministry and outside. “No one should be forced to consume something against his will,” she said, in regard to her opposition of the move.

When the new government was established, her successor, Ya’acov Litzman, pledged to restore fluoridation quickly, but it remains unaddressed.

Asked to comment, Grotto said,“The government regulations have been approved, so now the bodies that supply the water must proceed, and there must be funding. We have now received the funds, and we are pushing the process ahead with the Water Authority and suppliers.”