November 06, 2013

Mountainview hydrants spark safety complaint

As published in The Erin Advocate

Residents of the Mountainview subdivision at the south end of Erin village are finally getting fire hydrants, but notices from the Town saying they should not drink tap water for up to 10 days during installation and testing have prompted a complaint from County Councillor Ken Chapman.

He said that even if there is a small risk of contamination from the work, the Town should give residents more details on how to safely use tap water, including how to boil it for drinking.

Erin Water Superintendent Frank Smedley said people in the subdivision should not drink the water at all. He said a Boil Water Advisory is not appropriate, and that both the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) have no problem with the Town’s process.

“A shutdown of water does not create an adverse water situation,” said Smedley, noting that similar notices are used for other maintenance and repairs, and that the Town has not previously received complaints. “We are following our set operating procedure that outlines not drinking the water until satisfactory samples are received.”

He said the Town will supply bottled water to any affected resident if they request it, but that it is not standard practice to issue it automatically. Chapman said the availability of bottled water should have been stated in the Town’s initial flyers.

“If I can’t drink the water, you’re telling me it may be contaminated,” said Chapman. “For kids and seniors, this could be big trouble. I’m only over-reacting if no one gets sick. This is slip-shod, not giving people what they need to know. People should be treated with respect.”

Smedley said Chapman is very familiar with water department functions, yet has refused to discuss the issue with him, as requested in Town flyers.

“If he is suggesting that the water is unsafe, that is not true – these are precautionary procedures,” said Smedley. “He should know better than to do this.”

Shawn Zentner, Manager of Health Protection at WDGPH confirmed approval of the Town’s process and the notice that Mountainview subdivision residents not drink the water until notified otherwise.

“It is a prudent, reasonable and cautious step,” he said, noting that a Boil Water Advisory would only protect against bacteria, while not drinking the water at all protects against any potential contamination.

Smedley denied a statement in a flyer Chapman gave to residents that provincial officials are “putting pressure” on the water department to provide more information, including boiling procedures. In a report for this week’s council meeting Smedley said he did receive advice from MOE and Public Health on the wording of public notices.

The Town issued a third flyer to residents on Friday, offering bottled water on request, and asking residents to disregard flyers from other sources.

“Town of Erin Water Department staff work very hard to instill confidence in Municipal Water Operations,” said Smedley in his report, referring to a 100% rating in a recent MOE inspection.

Hydrant work for the 41 homes was initially expected to be done last week, but was delayed until this week due to parts availability. The Town’s first flyer said two shutdowns of the water supply would occur:

“After we notify you of the first shutdown, please do not drink the water. The Town of Erin staff will inform when the required sampling has been completed and it is safe to drink the water. You can wash dishes and bathe with the water.”

The actual work is expected to take two or three days, and the testing up to five working days (not including the weekend).

Chapman, a former Town Councillor, appeared at a special council meeting last week asking to be heard as a delegation. While he had the support of Mayor Lou Maieron, other councillors followed the advice of Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger and refused him permission to speak, since the meeting had been called for a different purpose.

In written comments released to the media he said it was a “very serious health and safety matter”. He wanted the Town to request fast-tracking of the testing to reduce the restriction time. He suggested the Town alert local doctors to possible contamination symptoms, and had questions about using tap water for washing fruits and vegetables and for cooking.

The Town’s second flyer included a warning not to use the water for food preparation. Work on water pipes can release rust, but Smedley said temporary discolouration of the water is only an aesthetic concern, not a safety issue.

Connection points for the four hydrants were set up when the subdivision water pipes were replaced in 1996. The Town insisted that local residents pay for 6-inch pipes rather than 4-inch, in order to accommodate hydrants.

The hydrants were never installed, however, which would have cost about $11,000 at that time. In September this year the project was awarded to Drexler Construction at a cost of $33,000, plus HST. Council had allocated $50,000 in the 2013 water budget, from the Water Reserve Fund.

“This will enhance the fire protection situation for residences in the area,” said Smedley at that time.

Boil Water Advisories are issued by Public Health, normally in response to known contamination, but they can be issued as a precaution in cases where there is sufficient risk of contamination. Boiling water only kills bacteria. If there was chemical contamination, boiling could concentrate it.

There was no Boil Water Advisory in effect as of Monday. Any time there is one, people are told to use bottled water or bring tap water to a rapid, rolling boil for one minute to kill possible bacteria for drinking water, according to instructions available on the local Public Health website.

Unboiled contaminated water is not considered safe for washing ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, making ice cubes, or mixing with infant formula or other uncooked products. It is not safe for brushing teeth, but is safe for bathing or showering if none is swallowed.

If there is no other contamination, it says unboiled water is safe for cooking, since the heat from cooking destroys disease-causing germs. It is safe for doing laundry. It is safe for cleaning hands and household items, but rinsing with a 10% bleach and water solution is recommended.