Sudbury

Attawapiskat chief understands the 'fears' of water quality concerns

The chief of Attawapiskat First Nation says despite a state of emergency being declared over concerns about water quality in his community, he still uses the water from his home.

State of emergency declared in Attawapiskat due to water quality concerns

Ignace Gull is the chief of Attawapiskat. (Ignace Gull/Facebook)

The chief of Attawapiskat First Nation says despite a state of emergency being declared over concerns about water quality in his community, he still uses the water from his home.

The declaration was made on Sunday after tests showed the tap water had potentially harmful levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs).

A separate system is set up for drinking water which residents can fill up jugs to access. That is safe to drink.

At a community meeting on Friday, residents were told to limit showers and not to wash produce in the water that's piped to homes.

Chief Ignace Gull says he still uses the "water at home."

"I'm not worried about it because I understand a little bit more," he said.

"But there are still people who have an extreme fear not to drink the water, not to use it for showers, not to use it for cooking, but I can understand, I can understand their fears."

Gull says he'd rather see the system permanently fixed so residents don't have to collect drinking water from a separate source. He says the state of emergency was declared to get government attention so action will be taken.

"They need to come up with something 100 per cent to fix the problem," he said. "Something has to be done."

'They're concerned, we're concerned'

The regional director general for Ontario with Indigenous Services Canada says the THM levels in the water in Attawapiskat are elevated. But Anne Scotton says there is no immediate risk.

"It would be long term significant use over a very long period, over decades, for there to be some effect on peoples' health," she said.

"70 to 75 years of long term use to have an actual health effect. And I think it's the sense, and members of the community, I can't just tell them not to worry, we need to be concerned. They're concerned, we're concerned."

Scotton says the government is working with the community to bring the THM's down to acceptable levels.

Chelsea Jane Edwards lives in the community with her five-month old son. She says she's not willing to take any chances.

"I can not use the tap to wash his bottles and have to use drinking water, and have to go buy bottled water at the store to use for his formula," she said. "That itself is concerning."

With files from Kate Rutherford

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