North Battleford, Sask: Cryptosporidium, another water treatment plant problem : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Sask. Officials Admit Water Supply Contaminated

12 Cases Of Parasitic Infection Confirmed

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask., 11:46 a.m. EDT April 28, 2001 -- A warning became an order Friday for residents of North Battleford and the nearby town of Ruddell after health officials confirmed that a problem at the city's water treatment plant over a four-week period likely resulted in a nasty parasite getting into the water supply.

A precautionary drinking water advisory issued earlier this week was upgraded to a boil water order Friday morning after new information from the city and Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) emerged, suggesting that the bug, cryptosporidia, entered the water supply during a maintenance procedure sometime between March 21 and April 17.

"Our top priority is protecting the health of our residents. Therefore we need to take all reasonable measures," said Dr. Gerhard Benade, medical health officer for the Battlefords Health District.

"I would be very reluctant to make predictions, but it would appear ... the number of cases of diarrhea seen by physicians is declining. With the procedures in place, we could see a rapid decline in numbers."

Officials with the City of North Battleford did not return phone calls Monday. A precautionary advisory for the nearby town of Battleford remains in effect.

At least 12 cases of infection from the parasite, which typically causes cramps and diarrhea, have been confirmed, while more than a hundred people have visited the hospital emergency room with symptoms.

But anecdotal evidence suggests far more people have been hit with the bug -- including large groups of youngsters from around the province who visited the city for an annual dance competition last week. Local residents and visitors were ill long before concerns about the water supply emerged.

David Perez, an instructor at Juliette's Dance Centre in Saskatoon, said two teachers and about 16 students aged nine to 16 -- most of those who travelled to North Battleford to represent the school -- are sick, along with some parents. Dance schools from Regina, Prince Albert, Biggar and other communities attended the event.

North Battleford pharmacists contacted by The StarPhoenix reported a substantial increase in the number of customers purchasing medications like Pepto Bismol and Immodium in recent weeks.

One pharmacist said he and his wife and child all suffered symptoms last week, but had no idea what caused them.

The illness cleared up within a few days, before it was necessary to see a doctor, he said.

SERM spokesman Scott Meekma said test results confirming the water was contaminated had not yet been received, but the water is suspect because of the number of people who tested positive for the parasite.

"We will work with the city's public works department to come up with a remedial response plan to address the concern," he said.

Cryptosporidia is carried in the fecal matter of humans, domestic cattle and wild elk and deer.

It can be spread by contact with fecal material, or by ingesting food or water contaminated by infected fecal material.

The boil water order issued Friday will remain in effect until the city's water treatment process and distribution system is determined to be providing safe water. How long that will take is difficult to predict, Meekma said.

If the parasite is found in the water, the system will have to be flushed out with uncontaminated water and then retested. Disinfectants such as chlorine do not kill the bug.

The only way to keep it out of the water supply is to filter it out -- something treatment plants in smaller towns may not be properly equipped for, according to Hans Peterson, executive director of the Safe Drinking Water Foundation.

-- Rachel Gibson (, April 29, 2001

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