Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Petition Gains Traction
Chlorinated water order from FHA leaves bad taste in resident's mouths
t the last city council meeting, Dr. Marcus Lem, a medical officer with the Fraser Health Authority (FHA) announced to a basically empty council chamber, that according to health bylaws, the city's drinking water will have to be chlorinated in order to bring it up to the provincial standard.
Since the announcement, the story has gone viral, so to speak, and has generated a groundswell of support against FHA's disinfection order.
"Dangerous bacteria strain sparks fight over Chilliwack water chlorination," screamed one headline from a CBC staff writer. The article was supported by a photo of an E.coli bacteria.
But there really is no fight. Chlorinating the water is not up for debate. It's a done deal by way of a public health order issuance which is backed by law.
According to a 2011 report to FHA, over the last decade about 56 samples out of 1844 tested positive for E.coli, but only 3 were at levels that are considered harmful, meaning it could cause some diarrhea. No fecal coliform was found, and it has to be noted the samples which came back positive, were taken in the heat of summer on July 18 from the Promontory Road holding tank reservoir.
There have been no deaths or mass illnesses reported, and people with compromised immune systems seem to be okay with drinking bottled water.
Lem rationalized FHA's position and reasons for chlorination saying the bacteria present in the samples was the type that causes diarrhea. Lem got zero response when he asked those in council chambers if they'd ever had diarrhea in the last year, adding that even he had it. Lem didn't mention anyone dying from it.
There is a school of thought out there who believe chlorinating Chilliwack water doesn't matter because fecal coliform will seep into the system from farms situated above the aquifer.
Lem explained that there are other ways residential city water can be contaminated. For example, if someone has made an illegal connection to the water system and they don't have check valves in place, there may be backflow into the system, or if there is a broken pipe.
One of the most contentious remarks Lem made during his presentation came in the face of adversity and consternation from the mayor and councillors. After taking a sip of water, he noted that even though it tasted good, he still wouldn't let his daughter drink it.
There was some showboating from councillors and some scored political brownie points, but council were united in solidarity against FHA's chlorination plan. Councillor Chuck Stam went up one side of Lem in a rare display of defiance.
Jake Reimer, a Chilliwack resident and owner of 360 Media, feels like many do in the city — leave the water be.
In response to the issue, Reimer has created an online petition at www.chilliwackwater.com. He hopes the site will generate at least 10,000 signatures that he can use to pressure to governments stop the chlorination program. So far there are 800 on the list.
"We will deliver the names and comments to any relevant parties, be it Fraser Health, the Municipality of Chilliwack and/or the Minister of Health," said Reimer in an e-mail to the Voice Tuesday.
Reimer has lived in town his entire life and he carries a deep sense of civic pride regarding the quality of life in Chilliwack. One of the best things about living in this part of the Valley is what he calls the "exceptional water."
"When we received news that FHA was planning full time chlorination of the city's water supply it struck a nerve with all of us at the office," Reimer said. "While we are all squarely in favor of public health we, as well as many people we've spoken with, were shocked by the abrupt and rigid stance of Fraser Health."
He says there are known side-effects from chlorine in drinking water, citing several recent studies showing links to exposure of disinfection by-products (DBPs) and a measurable increase in certain types of cancer.
"I believe this is a big part of the reason people are unconvinced that this action is an appropriate response at this time," he said of the order.
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