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Labatt halts St. John's brewing over manganese concerns

Cowan Heights resident Roger Hollahan (left) gets a five-gallon container of water filled by a City of St. John’s waterworks department employee — who didn’t want to give his name — at the Blackler Avenue depot on Wednesday afternoon.
Cowan Heights resident Roger Hollahan (left) gets a five-gallon container of water filled by a City of St. John’s waterworks department employee — who didn’t want to give his name — at the Blackler Avenue depot on Wednesday afternoon. - Joe Gibbons

Beer maker says the stoppage is a precaution, with no risk of a recall on Labatt beer

Labatt Breweries has halted brewing at its St. John’s location as a precaution amid concerns about manganese levels in the city’s water supply.

Labatt stated late Wednesday evening that a batch of beer brewed on Tuesday and Wednesday has been isolated and is undergoing testing. All brewing activities have been ceased at the brewery until the results come back. Results are expected as early as Friday.

Labatt corporate affairs manager Wade Keller says there’s no risk to the existing stock on the shelves and the company hopes there will be no interruption in supply for the area.

Elsewhere, a spokesperson for Browning Harvey says the Pepsi production site on Ropewalk Lane is supplied by the Bay Bulls Big Pond water supply, so there are no concerns about the Pepsi products they produce.

The concerns come after the city issued an advisory after elevated levels of manganese were found in the Petty Harbour Long Pond water supply.

Related story:
No timeline for discoloured water fix in St. John’s

Manganese is a naturally occurring metal found in water, but higher-than-normal levels can cause neurological damage to infants if they are exposed to the metal for months or years.

Mayor Danny Breen and deputy city manager LynnAnn Windsor held a news conference on Wednesday evening to give an update on the situation.

City staff are doing testing to figure out the exact scope of the situation. Windsor says the problem lies in the pipes bringing the water to roughly 8,000 homes in the west end of St. John’s. Crews will soon begin flushing the pipes to remove any deposits, with hopes the flushing will solve the problem.

Should the higher levels of manganese persist, the solution isn’t as easy as switching residents to water from Windsor Lake or Bay Bulls Big Pond.

“We did look at that possibility, but the issue with that is with the manganese that is in the distribution system, changing the water supply doesn’t solve that problem — it may actually make it worse,” said Windsor.

“To change the system out, we would have to change the direction of flow and cause a lot of disturbance in the system, which would make the issue worse.”

Breen says since July 26, 86 per cent of the water samples from the Petty Harbour Long Pond water supply have been below the maximum level of manganese recommended by Health Canada, leaving 14 per cent of the samples above that level.

“The staff are dealing with the contractor and consultants that are looking at different ways to do the cleaning that’s necessary in the distribution system. It’s not just like cleaning a pipe, it’s a specialized kind of work,” said Breen.

“That has to be planned out and done properly. It may be that this may just dissipate for the time being. That may happen at any time. One of the problems with tracking this down is that it’s been intermittent and it would happen at different locations. We didn’t have just one place to go to.”

City staff have ruled out any human cause for the manganese contamination. Because of the difficulty in tracking down the source, a timeline for a solution has yet to be set.

In the meantime, there are four water stations now open for affected residents to get clean water: the city depot at 25 Blackler Ave., the Jensen Camp pump station on 85 Jensen Camp Rd., the Kenmount Road pump station at 525 Blackmarsh Rd. and the Riverhead wastewater treatment plant at 209 Southside Rd.

Those stations will be manned 24/7 until the manganese contamination is dealt with.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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