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Port au Port residents tired of contaminated water

Byproducts form during water disinfection when chlorine is added, but in higher levels they can pose health risks.

By JAYMIE L. WHITE Special to The Appalachian

Editor’s note: This is Part One of an ongoing investigative series about water quality.

PORT AU PORT PENINSULA – Concerns have been raised about the possibility of contaminated water in numerous communities along the Port au Port Peninsula.

The specific chemicals in question, trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs), are both byproducts formed during the water disinfection process where chlorine is added to drinking water to remove disease-causing bacteria. The chlorine interacts with organic materials that are found in surface water supplies which results in these byproducts being formed.

According to one report on drinking water awareness developed by the Department of Health and Community Services, Department of Environment and Climate Change, Service NL, and Regional Health Authorities, these disinfection byproducts can’t be removed during a simple boil order notice. Instead it may require the installation of a water treatment unit such as an activated carbon filter.

The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality recommend a maximum acceptable concentration of 100 micrograms per litre of THMs in drinking water, and 80 micrograms per litre for HAAs, and the amount found in each community through data obtained by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, can be found online under the Newfoundland and Labrador Water Resources Portal.

In laboratory tests, lab animals, when exposed to elevated levels of THMs in drinking water, had an increased risk of cancer. In a more recent study, specific bladder and possibly even colon cancers have been considered to be an increased risk in people who’ve been drinking chlorinated water for 35 years or more.

According to Health Canada’s ‘It’s Your Health’ fact sheet on drinking water chlorination, high levels of THMs may also have an effect on pregnancy. A California study found that pregnant women who drank large amounts of tap water with high THMs were at an increased risk of having a miscarriage.

Additionally, HAAs appearing in high levels appear to have similar link. Long-term exposure could cause increased risks of developing cancer, as well as negative development and reproductive effects.

Bill Gorman, a resident of West Bay and chair of the Concerned Residents’ Committee of West Bay and Picadilly Head said he has done a lot of research into the topic on his own, and the information he has found so far is disturbing to say the least.

“Some residents have been drinking this water for over 10 years, and it wasn’t until 2018 that the residents here were informed of the contaminant levels of THM and HAA acids in the water,” said Gorman.

Gorman has been doing his part to get this information out to residents so they are aware of what could be in their drinking water.

“We have sent out two or three newsletters already to warn them and explain about the high acidic levels in the water,” said Gorman.

He also said that there are now even more people who are uncomfortable drinking their tap water.

“After all the articles came out, they don’t want to drink the water,” said Gorman. “They go all the way to Stephenville to get water from the spring.”

It is important to note that no definitive link has been proven between high THMs and cancer or miscarriage, but it is something that may require further studies to confirm or deny these lasting effects.

However, preliminary data obtained from Newfoundland and Labrador Water Resources indicates that a couple of communities along the peninsula do have THM and HAA levels that are more than double the acceptable standard set by the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

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