The long-term solution is not yet clear, but Scott Reid says there’s no need to overreact to concerning levels of disinfection byproducts in the drinking water of some communities.
The Liberal legislature member for St. George’s-Humber is responsible for the electoral district that contains Pasadena and Steady Brook, both of which have levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs), considered excessive by Health Canada’s standards.
These byproducts are created in the chemical reaction between chlorine and naturally occurring organic materials in water sources. Long-term exposure to them — through drinking, inhaling and skin absorption — has been linked to cancer, reproduction issues and other health problems.
Reid said it’s up to each person to decide for themselves if they want to consume the water in their towns if the levels are higher than they should be.
“I would have absolutely no problem drinking the water in Pasadena,” he said.
Reid says he has spoken with communities within his district, particularly Pasadena as the largest community outside the St. John's area on the list of towns with excessive levels in this province.
“It’s a serious issue, but it’s not an issue for panic,” said Reid. “At this point, we are not clear what the solution is, but there will be one over time.”
The province recently approved a new technology for disinfecting drinking water that uses hydrogen peroxide, rather than chlorine. Reid the pilot projects done with this technology is something communities can consider as each decides on the best approach to lowering the levels of THMs and HAAs in their water.
Premier Dwight Ball represents the district of Humber-Gros Morne, which includes St. Paul’s, the western Newfoundland community with the highest readings of THMs in the latest round of provincial monitoring.
He said he hasn’t been approached by any of the communities in his district on this particular issue, but knows they are all dealing with the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment in terms of ongoing monitoring of water quality.
“Yes, absolutely,” Ball said when asked if he’d drink the water in St. Paul’s. "… I would certainly drink the water.”
The premier said the province’s policy right now is to ensure communities are chlorinating their water to ensure it is safe for immediate consumption and to work with any towns having an issue achieving that objective.
He acknowledged there is new technology, recently approved for use in Newfoundland and Labrador, that disinfects water with hydrogen peroxide and doesn’t use any chlorine.
Ball said the province would work on cost-sharing arrangements with any communities interested in pursuing new technologies to address their water quality issues.
“What’s important here is safe drinking water,” he said.
The Western Star has repeatedly requested interviews on this subject from other western Newfoundland MHAs whose districts have communities with excessive levels of disinfection byproducts in their water, including Eddie Joyce, the independent member for Humber-Bay of Islands, and John Finn, the Liberal member for Stephenville-Port au Port .
While both Finn and Joyce indicated via email they would be willing to do an interview, neither had followed up as of deadline Friday.
The Western Star also repeatedly requested an interview with Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie on the issue, but there has been no reply from his department at all.