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Bwa of the day - St-Albert, ON - 2/23/13
TOWN LOOSES LANDMARK, GAINS INSIGHT ON FIRE WATER

Update 2/23/13

St. Albert is a rural community 60 km south of Ottawa. On February 3, the town's cheese factory, founded in 1894 and famous for its cheese curds, was completely destroyed by fire. Fearing that toxins from burning wood might have seeped into the groundwater, contaminating water that flows into private wells, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) subsequently issued a Do Not Consume Water Advisory . Ten days later,the advisory was lifted afer lab tests concluded that the area groundwater did not pose any threat to the rural community's 500 residents, all of whom are on private wells.

We asked EOHU's Chief Executive and Medical Officer, Paul Roumeliotis, if the Health Unit had learned anything from the fire event that might help other municipalities.

"We will be doing a complete debrief with all involved next week. However, we did learn that notwithstanding the risks of burning hazardous material, fire water itself can pose a health hazard as it may seep into the groundwater. We also learned that people need to be more aware of the difference between a boil water advisory for bacterial contamination and a total ban based on suspected chemical (toxic) contamination."

According to Roumeliotis, the Ontario ministry of environment tested over 150 substances, including the routine chemicals plus those thought to be toxic by-products of combustion or burning. "The list is very long, however, the results did not show any health related or aesthetic impacts on local drinking water and no health parameter was exceeded, based on Ministry water standards," he said.

The ministry of Environment Hydro-geologist concluded that the large clay bed acted to protect the aquifer. No further action was needed to help dilute the chemicals.

It is to be noted that throughout all this, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit reported punctually and keept its residents well informed by regularly updating its website in both French and English. As EOHU is also the only Ontario Health Unit that reports on advisories in small drinking water systems (SDWS), we took the opportunity to ask Roumeliotis why this was, since most BWAs tend to occur in small drinking systems.

"I cannot answer for other health units. This has been an ongoing practice at the EOHU. I believe reporting these is in the best interest of our community. In fact, some of these SDWS serve many people (ie the roadside kiosques), gas stations, churches etc."

NOTE: According to the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council (ODWAC), as of December 2011, 10,106 systems were identified as falling under the Small Drinking Water Systems Program. Out of these 6,990 have been assessed as to the risk they pose. 15% or over a 1,000 systems were categorized as high risk, 20% as moderate risk and 65% as low risk. 3,116 have yet to be assessed.

Background

Update 2/15/13

Water Advisory is removed

Update 2/12/13

Water Advisory remains in effect in immediate vicinity of fire

Following analysis of water samples, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) has lifted the Water Advisory that was issued to all residents of St-Albert, Ontario after the recent fire at the local cheese factory. Analysis of the samples confirmed that the well water in the area is safe for use and consumption in all areas of the village except for a limited zone immediately around the site of the factory fire.

A new precautionary Drinking Water Advisory has been issued for the following area in St-Albert: Principale Street between South Nation River and east of Genier Street (excluding Genier Street); Hébert Street; St. Paul Street from Principale Street up to 200 metres south of the cheese plant. - Eastern Ontario Health Unit

Intitial Report

Residents of the eastern Ontario town of St. Albert, Ontario are under a 'Do Not Consume' water advisory after a fire destroyed the St Albert Cheese Co-operative on Sunday February 3, 2013. The fire, which broke out in the morning and quickly spread to the older of the two buildings, took nine fire departments from surrounding communities to be brought under control. The Eastern Ontario Health Unit issued the water ban as a precautionary measure because it feared that toxins from burning wood could seep into the ground and contaminate water that flows into private wells. The fact that the cheese factory also used chemicals such as ammonia is also a cause for concern. "There are about 500 residents in St. Albert, all of whom are on private wells" says town administator, Mary McCuaig. "Residents were notified of the water ban through door-to-door notices. The town has so far distributed 300 caisses of bottled water to its residents". According to McCuaig, test results of the water samples submitted to the lab are expected to come in today. St. Albert is a rural community 60 km south of Ottawa, its cheese factory, founded in 1894, employs 110 local residents, with some families having worked there through five generations.

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