Sunnyside hoping pilot plant clears water concerns

N.L. communities facing disinfectant byproducts well beyond Health guidelines

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on August 12, 2015

Even when a community manages to find enough money to maintain its water lines and other infrastructure, filter out visible contaminants and use chlorine to attack bacteria, drinking water concerns can remain.

Towns and local service districts need to watch for “disinfectant byproducts.”

These are chemicals produced when organics in the water interact with their chlorine treatments. The most common are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs).

Health Canada has set limits on both regarding drinking water, with laboratory studies showing THMs and HAAs as probable human carcinogens at high levels, associating them with an increased risk for certain cancers, as well as miscarriages and birth defects, although more research is needed.

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In Sunnyside, Mayor Robert Snook said his town sees high concentrations, “probably one of the highest in the province.”

“These disinfectant byproducts, consumed over a long period of time, could have certain health risks associated with them. So we’ve been trying for a number of years now to try and get some way to reduce them.”

A town of about 450 people, it has been singled out here because of a recently-funded pilot project meant to reduce THM and HAA levels found in the water. But it is not alone in finding high levels of disinfectant byproducts.

In the last Department of Environment report on public drinking water supplies, issued earlier this month, 162 water supplies were flagged for either having byproduct concentrations beyond the Health Canada guideline or not having enough samples assessed to say if the guideline are being met.

From those tested, the supply from Grafer’s Pond in Hermitage showed THM results of more than three times the 100 microgram per litre Health guideline maximum, at 315 micrograms per litre. The same source showed HAAs of 717 micrograms per litre, or just under nine times the recommended maximum of 80 micrograms per litre.

In New-Wes-Valley, one supply registered THMs of 162 micrograms per litre and another registered 212 micrograms per litre, the latter being more than twice the recommended maximum. The same sources showed 608 and 440 micrograms per litre of HAAs.

Medical student Kalen Thomson reviewed Potential Human Health Impacts of Water Contaminants in Newfoundland and Labrador in a June 2014 report, supervised by Memorial University professor Atanu Sarkar, and noted 132 water supplies in the province with high THM concentrations and 147 with high HAA levels.

Sunnyside resident Robert Green said he will not drink water from the tap, because of “bad” water, although there is no boil-water advisory.

“It’s an issue because we’re paying for our water and we’ve still got to go buy drinking water,” he said, on his way in from a food fishery outing Saturday.

The mayor is hoping the new pilot project will change that opinion, while also providing something for other similarly-challenged communities to consider.

The town will obtain a hydrogen peroxide water treatment plant from San EcoTec, for a cost-shared $338,100 project.

Snook said a standard water treatment plant would have cost the community $4 million to $5 million.

The figure comes from a previously issued request for proposals.

The pilot plant is financially manageable, he said, but has also worked for a community in Ontario. It provides secondary disinfection, injecting hydrogen peroxide into the water after it has been treated with chlorine.

Meanwhile, Snook and both provincial- and federal-level officials recommended communities continue to treat their water with chlorine, despite high levels of disinfectant byproducts, given health risks posed by microorganisms outweighing risks from the byproducts. Home filters can be purchased to remove byproducts before they hit the tap.

But the pilot project holds the hope of a larger-scale solution.

“If it works, we’ll have our problem solved and it’ll be fantastic because for other small towns like us who can’t afford to put in a water treatment plant … it’ll be a solution for them as well,” Snook said. “So hopefully this is going to work and it’s going to help a lot of other small towns, too.”