Wednesday, February 27, 2013
The Pure Facts
FHA Town Hall meeting on chlorination brings out 500 residents
FHA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Buynder explains why Chilliwack's water should be chlorinated Tuesday at the Alliance Church. Below, Mayor Sharon Gaetz opens the forum.
s with any public consultation, it's important for residents and stakeholders to be heard. More often than not, these forums amount to nothing more than dog and pony shows, and that's what a hastily prepared town hall meeting Tuesday on water chlorination with Fraser Health Authority (FHA) amounted to.
According to FHA spokesperson Roy Thorpe-Dorward, approximately 500 people packed the Alliance Church auditorium to hear the Health Authority's reasons for wanting to chlorinate Chilliwack's potable water. The fact that only 500 showed up to hear and talk about an issue that affects about 80,000 residents is testament to the support that FHA has to move ahead with chlorination.
On Wednesday, the City of Chilliwack issued a water quality advisory for Greendale after samples there tested positive for trace amounts of a strain of E. coli bacteria.
The release informed residents that the standby chlorination system had kicked-in and they should run the water in their pipes once the chlorine is in the system — about 12 hours later. There was no boil water advisory issued.
Mounties made their presence known outside of the auditorium, and Mayor Sharon Gaetz opened the City-hosted forum by asking for decorum from the crowd.
"Its really difficult, I think for Fraser Health to come out here, and I think its very courageous," Gaetz explained. "So I would like to ask you to show them genuine Chilliwack openness and hospitality, and although you might not like the message that they're trying to bring to you this evening, I would ask that when you come to the microphone that you keep your questions very respectful, it is really easy sometimes when we're distressed and take things personal."
Gaetz had to leave to chair the regular FVRD Board meeting, but said she would be reviewing the video later.
Dr. Paul Van Buynder, FHA VP of Public Health and Chief Medical Health Officer, was in obvious damage control, and in addressing the crowd, referred to Chilliwack's water numerous times as "great". This comes after Dr. Lem's disparaging remark at the last city council meeting, where he said he wouldn't let his daughter drink the water.
Buynder delivered FHA's reasons chlorination in layman's language and after the presentation, the microphones were opened.
First up was outgoing MLA John Les, who declared right off the bat that he wasn't there glomming political points for himself.
But the presence of Chilliwack Liberal candidates Laurie Throness and John Martin somehow made that statement difficult to believe, especially since his declaration two months ago that he would help the fledgling Liberal candidates on his way out to pasture.
Les was clearly grandstanding at the microphone to several rounds of applause, while trying to come across as a water quality safety expert by declaring that chlorine didn't make the water safer.
Quite surprisingly, Les also detracted from the issue at hand as best he could by talking about the air shed and Metro Vancouver's plans for trash incineration.
So here we have a politician, trying to tell a medical doctor what's good for us. Go figure.
An example of yellow journalism and media hype came from a local radio station who reported the forum ended up in a "stalemate", when in fact the meeting was just an informational session and discussion only. It wasn't an actual vote on the issue.
One question that begs to be asked is; would those people who oppose chlorination be willing to sign waivers absolving the City and FHA of any liability in lawsuits arising from contaminated water?
The following are the main excerpts of Buynder's presentation.
The general principals behind drinking water safety
Around about 20 years ago, it was the first of the drinking water protection acts and it was passed in BC. At that stage, a review of the drinking water in BC found that this was a province that had the most outbreaks of water-related disease; salmonella, cryptosporidium, in any of the provinces in Canada.
Our concern is to do something about it. In 1999, they had an Auditor General's report and we looked at it and recommended that there needed to be a series of changes made to the drinking water regulations so that we could make the drinking water safer in British Columbia.
About the same time, there was a series of incidents in Colorado and in Walkerton in Ontario, that made people understand that we really need to get serious about some of the issues of drinking water protection.
The one in Ontario, pretty well changed drinking water protection for the whole country.
That particular episode had 2300 people that were sick in a small place in Ontario and 7 people died from a combination of a particularly nasty form of E. coli (157).
The message that got out at that particular time was that if we don't do drinking water protection properly, and we get unlucky with the bug that turns up, then this has enormous consequences for the residents of the town that we're talking about.
At that time, and after Walkerton, Perry Kendal, the Provincial Health Officer some of you may have heard of, and today was given a Queen's Jubilee Award.
He's worked decades in public health, and they put out a report in 2000 on how we fix up drinking water, and they passed another Act at that stage which was actually formulated in 2001, The Drinking Water Protection Act, and what it said was, we need a multi-barrier approach.
We need to have a water source that is protected or purified. So if you have a great water source like Chilliwack, then you've got to protect the water source by not letting a whole lot of people put farms on top of it and run fertilizer down into your drinking water source.
If you don't, if you live in Vancouver and Capilano and Seymour and Coquitlam as part of your process, then they use ozone and use it at the water source to make sure that the water source is pure.
But the water source itself doesn't give you pure water. It just gives you pure water when you take the water from the aquifer, and you've got a great aquifer, and people have said you've got a great aquifer, and no one is debating that that is the case.
But at that particular time, you need to put the rest of the multiple barriers in place. And one of those barriers is that you need a disinfection system unless you can make a really good case why you wouldn't have a disinfection system because you have 450 km of pipes, you have 17 reservoirs. You have 22,000 connections, and its growing, and you have 80,000 people that are taking the water from that particular water source.
So we need more than really good water in the ground. We need really good water at the tap when you turn it on and you drink it.
Having a disinfection process, chlorine or some other disinfectant, isn't in itself a panacea against anything at all. You need to make sure that you're protecting your system at the same time that you're protecting your system against incursions into it, you're protecting it against cross-connections and against backflows and all of those processes.
One of the great things about this process is that you have a group of professional water technicians that work for the council that Mayor Gaetz was talking about, and you spend a lot of time and money protecting the water itself and trying to keep it good.
So you have a process to take all of your old pipes and put new pipes in. That you have a process to look at your reservoirs, to line the reservoirs to protect the security of the reservoirs to look at making sure that you flush the pipes that are needing flushing, particularly the ones that are not getting the water drained as often.
So that particular part of the process is, again, is being done really well in Chilliwack at the moment. So you have a maintenance system for yourselves.
You have a really good water source. You have no guarantee at this particular point that you can protect against incursions.
And the USCPA, looked at a number of studies that were done about incursions into the systems, and said that a town the size of yours, of about 80,000 people and growing, should expect a high quality water system and that's something like 70-100 breeches of that water system on a given year.
That's purely because you will have changes in the pressure and you've got something like 10 pressure levels in your system at the moment that you'll have people that connect where their not supposed to connect, you will still have some problems with purification.
On Hillside Water
I can't promise you that every day, in every test, that will be the case. We know it wasn't at times in Hillside. And we know that one of the times at Hillside, there was a mix of reasons why that occurred and there was one story out of council that said it was because you had two firefighting exercises in the month leading up to that in 2011. And there was another report out of there that said because a particular plank had illegally connected to the system.
What happens is somebody makes an illegal connection or somebody did something with a fire hydrant, or someone someone put a hose in, or a breaking of a pipe or something goes on by the construction people, and the alarm goes off because the chlorine gets sucked up from what's happening in the system, and the turbidity changes and you know straight away that there's something happening.
You don't wait for next Monday, and a result on a Wednesday. You know there and then.
This discussion about 'hey, we do twice as many tests', the reality is that every town hillside in the Lower Mainland doesn't do twice as many tests. Every town has actually has a continuous monitoring that goes on all the time, 24/7, an alarm goes off when something happens to that.
So its those reasons that makes Fraser Health say, 'We think you are a large and growing town with a great water source and a great staff that are doing really good things to your system.
We want to make it foolproof. And we need that extra process to say, 'we'd have to disinfect the whole system not just have a few spots'.
Can Chlorine Cause Cancer?
People are worried about chlorine. People are worried not so much about chlorine itself, because chlorine itself is relatively innocuous, and WHO (World Health Organization) says don't worry about it, so people are worried about disinfection by-products.
There's a whole series of them that have really frightening names, and so there's all these really long-named things, and when you go and look them up, you can find that there are studies that say, 'we really don't like this stuff very much', and 'the health department really doesn't like this stuff very much'.
What it says is that we have two different types of state; we have ecological state, which means that they look at suburbs with very high levels of this stuff, where its chlorinated, and they look at suburbs where's there's not a higher level, and they try and see whether there's a difference between the outcomes of people in one suburb versus the rest.
Because we don't know if the ones in each suburb are drinking the same amounts, absorbing the same through their skin in showers, or anything else. But when I look at that data, it says, we think that maybe in that particular suburb where there's higher, there may be outcomes that aren't as good.
There are other sorts of studies that say, when I look at using these products, in animals, and we do animal exposure studies, then we see some degree of increased cancer in those animals.
We have these processes not just with the chemicals in the water, we have them with a whole rank of things. So chemicals in drinking water systems, not in Chilliwack, but in other, exist because they're in the soil.
We have drinking water systems that have arsenic that we know are not really good for you. We have drinking water systems that have manganese, which we know is not really good for you, and some of them are in the Fraser Valley.
And because we know that what you get no matter where you are is not sterile water, we have guidelines for making this stuff safe no matter what.
So we look at we call the "no adversity level". So we find the level that in the experiments on the animals, or wherever we're getting our data, shows nothing.
Then we take that level and we say, 'what if you drank 2 litres of water for 70 years, what would that mean, would it be a safe level?
Then we divide that safe level by ten, because we think there's a difference between beagle pups and humans. And then we divide the level by ten again, because we think some humans are different to others and children have different risks and so on. And then just because we want to be safe, we divide the level by ten again.
So we start at a level that causes no increased illness in our water and then we divide it by a thousand and then we say, 'if you drink 2 litres a day for the next 70 years, you're going to be drinking 1000th of a level that causes our problems in itself.
We make that the rule for the water authority to meet. So they have to meet that rule in their disinfection by-products, because we know that its not just safe, but it's 1000 times safe.
So that's the guideline. We do the same for manganese and arsenic and everything else that exists in the waters in the soil that we don't wan to see because there is in the process that says every major city, including Vancouver and in the Lower Mainland has chlorine.
But this isn't a process where the health department thinks 'hey, what the heck, we'll just give this to everybody and we think that everybody can get cancer or can have some other thing.
I think the other important part about the chlorine debate, part of the affect that we have guidelines to stop it, is that the production of disinfection by-products comes because the chlorine reacts with organic matter.
It really is a problem that needs fixing with the process in places like Vancouver because they have surface water, and they have a lot of organic matter, and they get matter from leaves and various other processes.
So what happens there is they have to manage the disinfectant by-products to keep it down.
You don't have surface water. You have very little organics in your system and your total organic count is below the level that we see on average at your peak that we see in other places.
So you are not going to produce, from a chloride system from your aquifer disinfection by-products that would occur, because most of the incursions in the Hillside area, you've had your sites chlorinated for many months.
In fact, since the last E. coli grew up there, we haven't released the chlorination recommendations for that particular section of the group. So you're already in a position where you can make up what happens when the chlorine is in your particular water source, and your staff do that to make sure. And the message that you're giving me, is that they can't even detect the disinfection by-products in the Hillside chlorinated system. Because you don't have the organics, even though you already have the chlorine in part of your system, this is a non-event for Chilliwack.
The message from your staff is it actually isn't even there at all, at a detectable level, much with above any guideline that would we would be concerned.
So the process with drinking water regulations nowadays, is that we want a multi-barrier approach. If something fails, then we want to be able to say we've got other protections as part of that process.
If there is an incursion into the system in itself, that then we have disinfection and we have ongoing non-stop continuous monitoring to make sure that that's the process and we monitor the bacteria and we monitor the different tentacles.
That's why FHA is working through that process to try and make sure that we can fully protect the water supply here.
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