Monday, November 18, 2019

Prince Rupert remains partial focus for latest report in nationwide tainted water series

The investigative team that delivered on the massive Cross Canada report on tainted water in October is back with some further research to their work and once again Prince Rupert is making for a theme.

In the latest report, authored by Brenna Owen from the Institute for Investigative Journalism, they make a comparison between how the City of Prince Rupert and the Metlakatla First Nation have addressed their individual water supply requirements.

Below we focus on the Prince Rupert notes, while this link, will take you to the review of their findings from the success on water that has been found across the harbour in Metlakatla.

For the Mayor and City Council in Prince Rupert, the theme of the report posted to the Global BC website on Friday carries on with some familiar observations of earlier this month.

Some of the current of the story has the researcher making note of some of the City's recent responses to the original reporting; but with the consortium of journalists seemingly continuing to hold to many of their original observations from their investigative work.

The latest review adds to that original reporting, making note of the Boil Water  advisory of one year ago and then moves forward to the more current concerns from their work related to the level of acidic pH found in Prince Rupert's water and how that can eat away at plumbing inside homes, through copper pipes with lead solder.

The report notes how Prince Rupert does not currently take steps to rein in the acidity of its water to control the corrosion issues. An issue that Metlakatla is engaged on, that through the use of limestone to raise the pH level to a more desired state.

The report does make note of a key City of Prince Rupert theme that there are no publicly-owned lead service lines that connect water mains to buildings in the city, however they also observe that with an acidic pH of 5.6 in Prince Rupert noted over the last year, that the water can eat away at plumbing inside homes, such as copper pipes with lead solder.

The Prince Rupert acidic content count is also something that as their report notes would be unheard of in the United States, that observation coming from an engineering professor with experience during the Flint, Michigan water crisis of 2014/2015.

The City's Communication Manager
 Veronika Stewart has become
the media's go to person on the 

issue of Prince Rupert water 
As part of their report, the investigative team reached out to the City of Prince Rupert for a comment related to the acidic levels in the city's water and why the city has yet to implement any corrosion control, with the City's Communication Manager Veronika Stewart fielding the request.

In her reply, Ms. Stewart  noted how the city had consulted with Northern Health and "had decided to focus on securing funding for the new water treatment plant, rather than on any ad hoc improvements".

The author of this most recent report,  who was part of the team that delivered the initial items from earlier this month, also would seem to still be on a different page than the City of Prince Rupert when it comes to the data collected  from the water testing and in the way it was collected and interpreted.

In the City's "clarifying statement" of November 5,  they raised some concerns over the original reports from November, particularly in the area of water sampling.

It should be noted that the samples used in the reporting were taken in the morning on the ‘first flush’ from the tap, after the water was left to sit overnight, and are ‘worst case’ results. These levels are not representative of the water being drawn through the tap throughout the day once stagnant water has cleared. 

Provincial Health Guidelines state clearly that “first flush” data is not representative of the level of lead exposure throughout the day. Instead, the Maximum Acceptable Concentration (which was recently lowered to a level of 0.05 mg/L) is supposed to be based on an average of samples collected throughout the day. -- From the City of Prince Rupert statement of clarification from November 5th, 2019

The newest Special Report for Global TV offers up what seems to be a rebuttal towards the Mayor and city's talking points, where the Mayor had characterized the national stories of earlier this month as misrepresentative media reports.

For the follow up story, the Global TV report highlights how Health Canada's own guidelines suggest that the method of sampling that the city makes note of, and how a sample taken after 30 minutes of stagnation, has a tendency to underestimate lead exposure.

The reporter also spoke with Raina Fumerton, the Public health Officer for the region, who offered many of the same observations as earlier this month, as to how Northern Health is comfortable with the city's steps so far.

“So, again, our approach is to get things as low as reasonably achievable and, if flushing after two minutes gets the levels from, I would imagine what were probably quite high, down to a level that is below the Health Canada guidelines, then yes. I’m comfortable with that.”

The investigative report for Global does however seem to raise more questions than it answers about the City of Prince Rupert approach on the issue of water; something which the City's Council members may wish to explore further in a public Council session, or Town Hall setting.

Something where they could invite the MLA to come to hear the concerns of her constituents on the topic and to bring in officials from Northern Health, as well as experts in water supply and environmental science to provide their analysis and best guidance towards it all.

That so everyone can be on the same page when it comes to where the community is on the topic of its water at the moment.

The City's councillors have remained fairly silent when it comes to the recent national spotlight on our water, leaving it to the Mayor and Communications department to carry the water if you will; however as elected officials they must surely have opinions and questions to ask and the time does seem at hand for them to weigh in on the discussion.

Mayor Brain and MLA Rice celebrating the recent funding announcement
towards a new water treatment system for Prince Rupert.  Not everyone
is all smiles in the city however when it comes to themes
of the city's water and what is found in our homes

The report from Friday, is also of note when it comes to some of those conversations that the researchers had while on the North Coast; most notable, the city's official position related to the comment on 'ad hoc solutions' delivered through the Communications manager.

In their original reports of earlier this month, the authors indicated that they had requested an interview with Mayor Brain but were declined that opportunity at the time; there is no mention in the follow up story of Friday, as to whether the reporter in this instance had made another attempt to speak with the mayor.

As well, as the expansive story also looks at how the water issues are tackled across the harbour it provides a couple of other quotes of significance from Dallas Leighton, who is the Supervisor in charge of the Metlakatla water system.

In one observation for the Special report for Global TV, the Metlakatla Water watcher, who lives in Prince Rupert notes that when you work in water treatment you've got a pretty good idea, (as) opposed to most people about how the water should taste and smell.

He doesn't mention the tannish tinge that comes with Prince Rupert water but he seems to be among those who are taking other measures to avoid that concern.

Mr. Leighton observed as to how in his home in an older neighbourhood in the city he only drinks bottled water, something we imagine which is a personal policy that has been adopted by many residents in the community these days.

The other comment is a wider overview as to what residents whether in Metlakatla, or elsewhere should expect when it comes to the water in their homes.

"There’s no reason that any First Nations or anybody in the country should be without safe drinking water"

And for his notes towards both themes, we can only add ... well said Mr. Leighton.

The Special report for Global TV, which should be shared widely through the community, can be examined here.

Our archive page of notes, which include the original reports and the follow up local views on the issue can be explored further here.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to our water supply I would expect best practices for everyone especially the children. In the city water report for the last two years we are awaiting funding for system equipment. The mayor could maybe donate some of his raise.

    If ph control will help the city should be pro-actively taking steps to reduce ph into households. Hiding behind a statement that we are hitting bare minimum doesn’t seem right.