Chilliwack residents fight to save water supply from being chlorinated

Deadly E. coli bacteria ha s been found in drinking water but residents are fighting the Fraser Health Authority’s plan to chlorinate


METRO VANCOUVER – Deadly E. coli bacteria has been found in Chilliwack’s drinking water, but residents are fighting the Fraser Health Authority’s plan to chlorinate the supply.

As of Thursday morning, more than 1,600 people have signed an online petition at chilliwackwater.com to say no to chlorinated water, while a Facebook page dedicated to the cause had more than a thousand members.

Chlorine controversy in Chilliwack
Chlorine controversy in Chilliwack

The petition will be sent to Fraser Health, but the authority says it is acting under the Drinking Water Protection Act and has ordered the city of Chilliwack to add a secondary disinfectant to the water.

“I don’t want gross tasting and smelling water. It is not contaminated, don’t bully us into chlorination. We deserve the right to decide for ourselves,” resident Joanne Krawchuk posted on the petition site. While another local Margaret Snell wrote: “Leave our water alone.”

There have been E. coli incursions, putting the population at unnecessary risk. These incursions have even included contamination of wells as far back as 2003 and as recently as 2006.

Fraser Health medical health officer Dr. Marcus Lem said Friday that E. Coli is putting residents at unnecessary risk and he wants to prevent another Walkerton tragedy.

In May 2000, seven people died and thousands became ill in Walkerton, Ont., when the water supply became contaminated with a highly dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria. It was later revealed that the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission knew there was a problem with the water several days before they told the public.

“The argument not to chlorinate as long as no one gets sick goes against the very rationale behind many of the services provided for by public health, including maternal health programs, food safety and immunizations,” said Lem.

Despite the authority’s claims it has repeatedly found E. coli in water samples, the city insists it follows a stringent water quality assurance program, and has an emergency standby chlorination system in place.

In an interview with CBC this week, Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz said chlorine was linked to bladder and colon cancer. The petition website also cites bladder cancer as a risk.

Though according to the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency, the risk is associated with how the chlorine combines with organic compounds. The agency says some studies show an association between bladder and rectal cancer and chlorination byproducts in drinking water.

But Chilliwack’s water comes from an aquifer, so there is no plant material present in the water to react with the chlorine, therefore very little risk of chlorination “by-products,” according to the Fraser Health website.

At his presentation to council last week, Fraser Health environmental health officer Binnie Silva acknowledged public concerns about those potentially cancerous chlorine byproducts, along with other concerns about changing the way the water tastes. But he said that Chilliwack’s groundwater system is ideally suited to chlorination and would minimize the development of such byproducts.

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