Winnipeg's brown water poses risk, biologist says
City insists that discoloured water consistently meets health guidelines
Winnipeggers should think twice before drinking the brown water that is coming out of some city taps, according to a Manitoba biologist.
People in the city have been plagued by brown water over the last two years, with a significant spike in discoloured water reports this summer.
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City officials insist the water has been tested and is safe but at the same time have advised people not to drink or prepare food with it.
CBC News ran its own tests and obtained the city’s test results, then shared them with University of Brandon biologist Bill Patton.
Paton reviewed the two sets of data on the water, one from the City of Winnipeg and an independent analysis from a lab hired by CBC News.
Manganese levels a concern
Some city tests revealed high levels of manganese and iron. In fact, manganese levels in the brown water were 10 times higher than the recommended esthetic guidelines in a couple of the tests.
Esthetic guidelines refer to taste smell, and appearance. There are no health and safety guidelines governing manganese in drinking water.
Still, Patton said the high levels are a cause for concern.
He said countries like the United States and many in Europe strictly regulate the amount of manganese in water because it has been linked to learning difficulties in children and Parkinson-like symptoms in adults.
Maryse Bouchard, a University of Montreal researcher who studies the toxicity of environmental contaminants, says studies have linked higher levels of manganese in water to lower IQs in children.
"It's neurotoxic and we have some data showing that when it's in water it can also impact children's health," she said.
"I don't think personally I would drink the water, and I don't think I would give it to my two-year-old son either."
Water is safe, city officials maintain
But the City of Winnipeg’s water services manager, Terry Josephson, said Canada doesn’t have those guidelines and only monitors manganese under "esthetic guidelines."
That means officials watch manganese levels only to ensure they don’t affect the taste, odor or smell of the water.
"All testing that we've done has never indicated that the water has been unsafe," Josephson said. "We have no evidence at all to suggest that."
He said there’s no cause for alarm, even with the elevated manganese levels.
"There's just no evidence that we've seen at this point that indicates that the water is anything but safe."
Josephson said the city is still investigating the cause. He said sediment in water pipes could account for higher iron and manganese levels.
The city said it had 1,344 complaints about discoloured water from Aug. 7 to 28 and of those, it conducted 10 tests at six locations.
Diane Sacher, the City of Winnipeg's director of water and waste, says the city has conducted about 300 tests of discoloured water over the last three years.
"It has been hundreds of samples all telling us the same thing," she said.
Sacher added that the city has actually scaled back the testing because the discoloured water consistently meets health guidelines but fails to meet some esthetic guidelines.