St. Vital residents uneasy even with boil water advisory over

In spite of test results released Wednesday giving the all-clear for residents in south St. Vital to drink and use tap water, some in the area say they still don't trust the local water supply.
Some in Winnipeg's St. Vital neighbourhood, which was under a boil water advisory for almost 24 hours earlier this week, say they don't trust tap water even though the advisory is no longer in effect. 1:57

In spite of test results released Wednesday giving the all-clear for residents in south St. Vital to drink and use tap watersome in the area say they still don't trust the local water supply.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced at 6 p.m. Wednesday that the precautionary advisory, which affected some 12,500 households in an area within southern St. Vital, was no longer in effect.

The advisory was issued the night before after water tests revealed positive results of low-level E. coli bacteria in three area samples.

Tests done on a second batch of water samples from the area came back negative for bacteria.

City and provincial health officials have said there was a good chance a "false positive" came up in the original results.

But some in St. Vital say they aren't taking any chances, even though the second test results came back negative.

"It used to be [that] I drank tap water at home but, I don't know, I change my mind.  Maybe I'm going to drink bottled water," Takekuni Akimoto, a sushi chef, said Thursday.

St. Vital resident Jason McNickholl wants to know more about test results that prompted officials to issue a boil water advisory Tuesday, then came back negative after more tests Wednesday, before he lets his children drink fom the tap again. (CBC )
On Wednesday evening, some parents at the Jonathan Toews Community Centre made sure their children were drinking bottled water instead of water from the tap.

One parent, Jason McNickholl, said he wants to know what caused the positive test results before he lets his children drink tap water again.

"We will probably fill [a bottle] from the water cooler for now and go from there," he said.

In a release sent late Thursday afternoon, the City of Winnipeg insisted that the tap water "meets all health and safety water quality regulations and guidelines."

"We have a long standing history of providing safe, high-quality water to our residents. This precautionary advisory was a first for Winnipeg since we began drawing water from Shoal Lake in 1919," Diane Sacher, the city's director of water and waste, said in the release.

False positive under investigation

The city says officials are investigating how the first set of test results were positive for E. coli, but the second came back negative.

A city spokesperson says officials are satisfied with the work of the private laboratory it relies on for water testing.

The spokesperson said false positive results do happen "from time to time" but they usually retest negative. The false positives could be caused by factors such as:

  • A contaminated water tap at the sampling location.
  • Accidental contamination of the sample container.
  • Accidental contamination of the water during sampling.
  • Accidental contamination at the laboratory during analysis.

While the city is investigating what happened in this case, the exact cause of the false positive may never be known, the spokesperson said.

Local biologist and water quality expert Eva Pip said it is critical to understand why the water samples tested positive, then negative. 

"Were these … real positive results, or were they the result of some sort of contamination? Either way, there is obviously a problem," she said.

The city noted that there was "more than an adequate level of chlorine for water safety in all the water samples, including the samples with positive low level results of bacteria.

"The chlorine levels measured met the level required … and would have effectively killed any bacteria in the water," the spokesperson said.

City and provincial health officials also said there still have been no reports of anyone getting sick from the water.

Brown water could play part, expert says

One food safety expert says the province should have figured out why the water tested positive for E. coli before declaring it safe to drink.

“You get a positive result and industry re-tests and gets a negative result, and they say, “Oh, nothing wrong. We can go ahead and sell the food.” Well, that’s not on,” said Rick Holley, a professor of food safety at the University of Manitoba.

Holley said he believes the positive tests could be related to the city’s ongoing brown water issues. He said Winnipeg’s water treatment plant is state of the art, but the pipes in the city are old and cracked.

“It’s kind of silly," said Holley. He compared it to "investing in proper pasteurization equipment and then putting pasteurized milk into a dirty bottle.”

Bottled water business gets boost

World of Water owner Sammy Mittelstadt said he's seen a steady stream of customers since the boil water advisory was issued late Tuesday.

"We've been selling coolers out the door," he said. "New people [have been] coming in, faces we've never seen before. Our regular customers coming in gathering water. We've probably tripled or quadrupled our sales."

Mittelstadt said he's brought in staff and water from other locations to keep up with the demand.

"You know it's great for business." he said. "At the same point, I don't want to see anybody get sick or die or get very seriously ill."

Meanwhile, city staff say they will also review the process used to notify the public of the boil water advisory.

Some in St. Vital have complained that they weren't aware of the advisory, which was issued on Tuesday evening, at least until hours after it came into effect.


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