Nfld. & Labrador

Point proven: Study shows municipal water worse than DND water in HVGB

Residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay have some new numbers to back up their claims over poor water quality.

Hard water, possible carcinogens in municipal water supply

This photo of a full bathtub was posted to a community discussion board, showing water quality in Happy Valley-Goose Bay after an annual flushing of water lines. (CBC )

Residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay have some new numbers to back up their claims about poor water quality.

A report by the Labrador Institute has confirmed what Valley-area residents have been saying all along. Water from the municipality's treatment facility is in fact worse than the water supplied to other regions of town.

Among many findings, the report showed higher concentrations of minerals and an increased level of trihalomethanes (THMs) — a family of organic chemicals, some of which are cancer-causing — in the Valley water.

"This shows a baseline decision-makers can work with and it provides the opportunity for additional studies," said Labrador Institute director Dr. Ashlee Consolo in an interview with CBC Labrador Morning.

Complaints over water quality are commonplace in the Valley, which gets its water from two separate supplies. The Department of National Defence operates its own treatment plant using water from Spring Gulch, while the municipality has a treatment plant using groundwater from various wells.

Water sources nowhere near equal

At any given time, the water coming from a Valley-area tap mostly consists of municipality water, says the study, orchestrated by Dr. Merline Fonkwe.

The difference in quality is substantial.

Dr. Merline Fonkwe (left) led a study into water quality at Happy Valley-Goose Bay's two treatment facilities. Ashlee Consolo, director of the Labrador Institute (right), said she hopes their study will push the conversation into action. (Labrador Institute/Twitter)

A higher concentration of minerals were found in the municipality water, leading it to be "harder" than normal. A total hardness reading of 120 mg/L is considered hard. Water from Valley taps consistently runs between 99 and 138 mg/L, while measurements in the town's wells have topped 300 mg/L.

Hard water is known to chew up household appliances, leaving hot water tanks and washing machines in disrepair long before normal.

Lead, other chemicals higher in the Valley

The study also found elevated levels of lead in the water. While the contamination is not coming directly from the treated water, the hardness of the water causes pipes and faucets to corrode. This corrosion releases lead into the water.

The newest house in the study had lead in its water just two years after construction, Fonkwe said. Another residence recorded readings as high as three and a half times the safety standard.

Levels of THMs varied, with higher readings further from the reservoir. Readings in the spring of 2015 were above Health Canada's maximum acceptable levels in four of the six homes tested.

Long-term exposure to THMs can pose a health risk, the study says, though effects differ for each chemical compound in the broader THM group. One of the most common chemicals found in the study was chloroform, which is linked to bladder and colorectal cancer.

With the report now released, Consolo hopes their work will push talk into action.

"We have a longstanding mandate in the region to meet the needs of Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Labrador," she said. "What Dr. Fonkwe has contributed to is a discussion and a dialogue about where the next steps are."