Canada: Major Cities' Water Supplies are "At Risk" : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Ottawa Citizen

Retired scientist says Winnipeg, Vancouver have 'primitive' systems

Kate Jaimet The Ottawa Citizen

Two of Canada's largest cities are at risk for an outbreak of cryptosporidium, the potentially deadly microbe that infected the water in North Battleford, Sask., because of their antiquated water treatment systems, a retired Health Canada scientist says.

"Vancouver and Winnipeg both have very primitive water treatment facilities," said Dr. Barry Thomas, who served as head of the drinking water program at Health Canada from 1991 to 2000, in an interview yesterday.

But water managers from both cities said the risk of infection is low because the water comes from clean lakes and rivers, far away from agriculture operations. The microbe is carried in the feces of infected animals.

"Unless there was a cryptosporidium outbreak in the wildlife population, we don't believe there would be a problem," said Tom Pearson, Winnipeg's manager of water service.

Vancouver and Winnipeg treat their water with chlorine to kill bacteria like E. coli, responsible for last year's deadly epidemic in Walkerton. But chlorine does not kill cryptosporidium, and Vancouver and Winnipeg don't have the equipment to filter that microbe from their water.

Bob Jones, Vancouver's water quality control administrator, said the city's water is tested weekly for cryptosporidium and the related giardia microbe, and plans are under way to build a $130-million filtration plant by 2005. Winnipeg also tests regularly, and plans to build a filtration facility by 2006.

But in the meantime, the risk of infection remains, Dr. Thomas said.

"If ever those lakes did get infected with cryptosporidium, those people would get infected."

The microbe causes diarrhea, vomiting, low-grade fever and nausea, and can be fatal in people with weak immune systems.

Although Vancouver and Winnipeg are the last two major cities without filtration plants, many smaller municipalities are also at risk for infection because of inadequate treatment facilities.

"If we don't do anything there's no doubt we'll continue to have outbreaks," Dr. Thomas said. He estimated it would take five to 10 years and billions of dollars to bring water treatment facilities countrywide to a safe standard.

The spectre of infected water has been the hottest topic in the House of Commons for the past two days. Hundreds of people are now ill in North Battleford after the cryptosporidium microbe infected the city's water. That comes on the heels of the water-borne E. coli epidemic that was responsible for seven deaths in Walkerton last year.

"The headlines report that Canadians are dying because of drinking water," said Tory leader Joe Clark during a debate on water yesterday in the House of Commons.

Mr. Clark's party tabled a motion for the federal government to act "immediately" with the provinces and territories to "ensure enforceable national drinking water standards."

The motion passed after gaining support, with a minor amendment, from the Liberal party. However, the government was careful to emphasize that water is mainly a provincial jurisdiction, and they would pass no new law on water quality standards without the agreement of the provinces.

"Constitutionally there is a major provincial role," said Environment Minister David Anderson. He said it is more important to analyse the reasons for outbreaks and remedy them, than to get embroiled in constitutional struggles with the provinces.

-- Rachel Gibson (, May 09, 2001


Looks like its time for a Berkfield water filter. One source in the States is

-- John littmann (LITTMANNJOHNTL@AOL.COM), May 09, 2001.

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