Officials investigating reports of chlorine taste in Hamilton's drinking water

The City of Hamilton has received a rash of complaints from residents who say the drinking water tastes strongly of chlorine.
City officials received about 40 complaints about the taste of Hamilton's tap water between Wednesday and Monday. (iStockphoto)

The City of Hamilton has received a rash of complaints from residents who say the drinking water tastes and smells strongly of chlorine.

Dan McKinnon, director of water and wastewater for the city's public works department, sent members of city council an e-mail on Friday to notify them about the reports.

McKinnon said the most of the complaints came from residents in the lower city, from an area roughly bookended by Westdale in the west and Grays Road in the east.

On Monday, McKinnon told CBC Hamilton the city has received about 40 complaints since last week about this issue.

"We really saw a start in the rise in complaints on Thursday," he said. "It was already was starting to decline by Friday night and Saturday, and then [on Sunday] we only had one or two."

Officials have taken "dozens and dozens of samples" of the city's drinking water as part of their investigation, he said.

None, McKinnon added, reported chlorine levels that exceeded the city's normal operating range.

He said officials are continuing to look into the cause of the smell.

Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie said his office received multiple calls or e-mails about the matter.

"The smell and the taste weren't what we expect from Hamilton water," McHattie said.

He said that given the results of the testing, he's not concerned about the safety of the water, but added he hopes that the city will be able to provide an explanation.

"We just want to find out what caused it to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Chlorine is used at water treatment facilities across Canada to rid drinking water of harmful bacteria.

According to Health Canada, consuming water with up 50 milligrams of chlorine per litre has no observable short-term effects on a person's health.

"Generally, it's a good idea [to chlorinate drinking water]," said Ed McBean, a professor at the University of Guelph who studies water security. "I woudn't panic, but elevated levels are something you don't want for a long term."

McBean said he's surprised Hamilton's water managers aren't already aware of what caused the unusual taste.

"Somebody should, at an operational level, know what 's happening if it's that localized."