St. John's to test for all 75 contaminants in Health Canada water guidelines

The City of St. John's says it will now send water samples to N.S. to be tested for all 75 contaminants listed in Health Canada's guidelines, in the wake of a CBC Investigates story.

Decision comes in wake of CBC Investigates story

St. John's Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth is chair of the Regional Water Services Committee. (CBC)

The City of St. John's says it will now send water samples to Nova Scotia to be tested for all 75 contaminants listed in Health Canada's guidelines, in the wake of a CBC Investigates story this week.

"In the next coming weeks, the city will be undertaking to investigate all 75 items, and that's meant to give the general public a very strong confidence that our water services are well protected and certainly the quality is top notch," St. John's Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth said late Thursday afternoon.

Currently, the city tests for only one-third of those 75 contaminants. St. John's officials originally told CBC Investigates they only tested for 20 parameters, but upon further investigation now say that number is 25.

On Friday, the city revised that number up slightly again, to 26. Now on the list is benzene, a known carcinogen. Benzene was not on the initial list of contaminants tested for in St. John's that was provided to CBC.

Of the 18 Canadian municipalities surveyed by the CBC, St. John's rested near the bottom of the barrel.

In Ottawa, all 75 contaminants are tested for, while in Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax, that number is 74.

St. John's officials say the reason they don't test for more chemicals is because the city's watershed is heavily protected and it's unlikely contaminants would leach into the water supply.

But some environmental experts argue that the only way to be sure is to test the water.

Ellsworth, who is chair of the Regional Water Services Committee, says the public's peace of mind is well worth the cost of the test.

"For such a small investment, to give our residents and our neighbouring residents the confidence -- that we want them to understand that this is pristine drinking water," Ellsworth noted.

"We're going to undertake to do all 75 items, and that will show confidence to the general public. As elected officials, we understand the concerns that have been raised, and we're responding."

The one-time test will cost roughly $12,000.