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Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Graham Letto says communities should notify residents and take action to correct water quality issues

Labrador West MHA Graham Letto said they have a temporary solution to the problem and are working on something more long-term.
Labrador West MHA Graham Letto File image

Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Graham Letto says any community with drinking water issues should be taking steps to both inform residents and address the underlying problem.

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The minister made the comments Thursday following a series of stories published by The Western Star in the last week about several Newfoundland and Labrador communities having levels of disinfection byproducts in their water that exceed Health Canada standards.

Trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) are created in the chemical reaction between chlorine and organic material natural found in surface water supplies. Long-term exposure to them has been linked to cancer, reproduction problems and other health issues.

The levels of these byproducts vary by community, from being barely above the Health Canada standards to being two, three or even more times the acceptable levels. Letto said the minimum acceptable level should be the threshold for triggering action.

“If you are above the Health Canada standards (which have been the same since 2006), by God you should be informing your residents that is the case,” said the minister. “For liability and accountability purposes, you should be doing that and municipalities have to take some responsibility in that.”

The federal government recently allocated $559 million to Newfoundland and Labrador under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. Of that money, a little more than $302 million is set aside for green infrastructure, including that which can provide better access to potable water.

Letto said any communities wanting to pursue infrastructure to lower THM levels would also qualify under this capital works program at the maximum cost-sharing ratios offered by the province. For communities of 3,000 people or less, the municipalities would only need to cover 10 per cent of the costs.

Towns with populations between 3,000 and 7,000 would need to contribute 20 per cent of the costs, while any larger municipalities would need to come up with 30 per cent.

Also, the provincial government does have authority under the Water Resources Act to require a community to rectify adverse effects on water quality revealed through the regular testing the province does on public water supplies.

Letto said that would be more of a last resort and prefers municipalities with elevated THM levels to seek the solutions that best fit their particular situation, in terms of infrastructure and finances.

“I’m not in the habit of mandating anything, but, if we see anything that municipalities aren’t dealing with, then, yes, we have to do that,” he said. “We’re not going to allow a municipality to ignore a drinking water system that’s not safe to drink.”

For the province, the main concern remains levels of harmful bacteria in drinking water that can cause more immediate health problems than the long-term exposure to disinfection byproducts — such as THMs and HAAs — might cause.

For those with chlorination byproduct issues, Letto said the capital works funding soon to be made available for water infrastructure could be used for communities interested in pursuing methods other than chlorination.

The province recently approved the use of hydrogen peroxide systems that do not cause THMs or other disinfection byproducts. It all comes down to each community’s priorities and ability to pay for the installation and ongoing operation of whatever method they choose, said Letto.

The minister also noted there is no reason for any community not to have access to an operator skilled at chlorination. The province provides training for water system operators free of charge.

Cash-strapped communities, he added, should be pooling resources with neighbouring communities to better afford a regional water system operator.

Here's a list of communities exceeding the THM standards set out by Health Canada

Anchor Point

Aquaforte

Arnold's Cove

Avondale

Baie Verte

Bellburns

Belleoram

Birchy Bay

Bonavista

Brent's Cove

Brighton

Brigus

Buchans Junction

Burgeo

Burin

Burlington

Burnt Islands

Campbellton

Carmanville

Cartwright

Cavendish

Centreville-Wareham-Trinity

Comfort Cove-Newstead

Conche

Conne River

Cook's Harbour

Cottlesville

Cow Head

Cox's Cove

Crow Head

Cupids

Dildo

Dover

Embree

Fairbanks-Hillgrade

Fermeuse

Ferryland

Fleur de Lys

Flower's Cove

Fogo Island

Gander Bay South

Garden Cove

Garnish

George's Brook-Milton

Gillams

Glenwood

Glovertown

Goose Cove East

Grand Bank

Green Island Brook

Greenspond

Hampden

Happy Adventure

Harbour Breton

Hare Bay

Hawke's Bay

Hermitage

Herring Neck

Holyrood

Indian Bay

Isle aux Morts

Jackson's Arm

Keels

Lamaline

Lawn

Leading Tickles

Lewin's Cove

Lewisporte

Little Bay

Little Bay Islands

Little Burnt Bay

Lourdes

Lushes Bight-Beaumont-Beaumont North

Main Brook

Makkovik

Mary's Harbour

McCallum

McIvers

Meadows

Merritt's Harbour

Miles Cove

Millertown

Milltown-Head of Bay D'Espoir

Musgrave Harbour

Nameless Cove

Natuashish

New-Wes-Valley

Norris Arm

Northern Arm

Pacquet

Parkers Cove

Pasadena

Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove

Phillips Head

Pidgeon Cove-St. Barbe

Placentia

Pleasantview

Plum Point

Point Leamington

Point May

Point of Bay

Pollards Point

Pool's Cove

Port Albert

Port Anson

Port Blandford

Port Hope Simpson

Port Saunders

Port au Choix

Port au Port West-Aguathuna-Felix Cove

Postville

Pouch Cove

Purcell's Harbour

Ramea

Random Sound West

Robert's Arm

Rocky Harbour

Roddickton-Bide Arm

Salvage

Small Point-Adam's Cove-Blackhead-Broad Cove

Smith's Harbour

South Dildo

South River

Southern Harbour

St. Anthony

St. Bernard's-Jacques Fontaine

St. George's

St. Lawrence

St. Lewis

St. Lunaire-Griquet

St. Pauls

Steady Brook

Stoneville

Summerford

Terrenceville

Tizzard's Harbour

Torbay

Trepassey

Trinity

Trinity Bay North

Trepassey

Trinity

Trinity Bay North

Triton

Twillingate

Upper Island Cove

West Bay

West St. Modeste

Whitbourne

Whiteway

Source: https://www.mae.gov.nl.ca/waterres/quality/drinkingwater/pdf/2018_Winter/THMs_Winter2018_color.pdf

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