Whistler’s water tests find lead and copper

The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is working on mitigation efforts for drinking water at municipal facilities – while continuing to work on longer-term solutions for the entire community – after testing carried out at the end of last year revealed high levels of lead and copper during the first sampling. .

A report from consulting engineers at Kerr Wood Leidal dated December 10, 2020 shows results for 11 buildings owned by RMOW: The Point Artist-Run Center; the Maury Young Arts Center; the Spruce Grove Fieldhouse (home of the Waldorf School); the court of public works; Municipal hall; the Public Safety Building (home to the Whistler RCMP); the main fire station; Spring Creek Community School; the Whistler Museum and Archives; the Whistler Public Library; and a house at 7235 Fitzsimmons Road North.

Of the buildings tested, only the house at 7235 Fitzsimmons Road North had lead and copper levels below both the maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) and aesthetic objectives (AO) when first sampled.

Of the other buildings tested, all had lead levels exceeding the MAC on first sampling, between 0.005 mg / l and 0.299 mg / l, with the exception of the Maury Young Arts Center, which only displayed high levels of copper. .

Three buildings – the Public Safety Building, the Spruce Grove Fieldhouse, and the Library – had levels of lead and copper in excess of the MAC.

The buildings tested were chosen as a representative sample of buildings owned and operated by RMOW. They represent a wide variety of sizes and ages – the oldest, the Town Hall, was built in the early 1970s and moved to its current location in 1981, while the most recent is the Library, built in 2008.

In March 2019, the federal government updated its Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality to reduce the MAC for lead in drinking water from 0.01 mg / l to 0.005 mg / l.

For copper, the MAC is 2 mg / l, while the AO is 1 mg / l.

Research has shown that there are no safe levels of chronic exposure to lead and that blood lead levels, even at low levels, are linked to lower IQ scores in children. ages three to five, and the associated IQ drops are actually greater with lower blood lead levels.

According to Health Canada, short-term exposure to copper can have effects on the gastrointestinal tract (such as nausea, pain and vomiting, or diarrhea).

“The long-term effects are less well documented; current evidence indicates that chronic exposure to very high levels of copper in the general population can have effects on the liver and kidneys, ”says Health Canada’s website.

A second round of tests at six of the buildings, conducted after a five-minute faucet flush followed by 30 minutes of stagnation, showed lead and copper levels below both MAC and AO.

However, the report notes that a single flush at the start of the day is “probably not adequate” and concludes that “all potable water outlets in all buildings owned by RMOW should be flushed until that they are cold each time they are used for consumption. “

The KWL report is comprehensive and gives RMOW certainty about the systems found in its buildings, said Jessie Gresley-Jones, general manager of the Resort Experience.

“I think what continues to be true and consistent is that the water the municipality provides to all of our citizens continues to be safe, and so what the report really explores is the level of complexity, in many ways, of plumbing systems. which are present in our larger facilities, which cause water to stagnate when it is not flowing regularly, ”said Gresley-Jones.

“And that’s where we start to see this problem of internal plumbing systems failing that needs to be addressed by simply flushing the faucets. “

The main takeaway from the study is that the faucet flush works, he added.

“The flush works – reaching a cool, constant temperature, whether it takes 30 seconds or five minutes, that provides potable water to all residents,” he said.

CORROSION PROBLEMS

The corrosive water problem in Whistler (and indeed in many West Coast communities) is not new, although it has taken a back seat to the COVID-19 pandemic and other priorities since the start of 2020.

In December 2019, an investigation report from Star Vancouver, Global News and the University of British Columbia found that some homes in the complex had lead in their drinking water.

As part of the investigation, reporters collected water samples from 10 homes, two hotels and an Airbnb property and had them tested for lead.

All samples contained traces of lead and seven contained lead levels in excess of Health Canada guidelines, although other tests performed after flushing the faucets showed results within guidelines.

While Whistler’s water meets all VCH operational guidelines, corrosive water can leach metals like lead and copper from plumbing fixtures, as happened in the village of Pemberton in 2016.

RMOW has been working on long-term fixes to fix the issue locally since at least 2018, with the last public update coming in January 2020.

At that time, the capital cost to adjust pH levels – one of the main corrosive factors – throughout Whistler’s complex water system was estimated at $ 5.7 million, not including land acquisitions. that may be required to complete the work.

Staff also estimated that two additional full-time staff would be needed to operate the systems, as well as $ 200,000 per year in chemicals, adding an additional $ 2 million to the current operating budget.

The final budget for construction of what is now called the South Whistler Water Supply Project will depend on the design, which itself has a budget of $ 400,000, said Virginia Cullen, executive director.

The original plan was to start design work this year, but “the cyberattack [in late April] had an impact on this; we weren’t able to get the basic data and information to the consultants when we wanted to, ”Cullen said.

“So it’s delayed, however, there is a significant amount of design work scheduled for next year that will catch up with us, and then construction will follow after that.”

In the meantime, the message to the public remains the same: the flush works.

“If everyone flushes the toilet to achieve a constant cold temperature, the water they receive through the Whistler water supply is safe and meets all the regulations we have through Vancouver Coastal Health.” , Cullen said.

PROVISIONAL MEASURES

Until longer term solutions are found, RMOW is also working on installing filters (at a cost of around $ 1,000 each) in each of its public buildings to reduce the amount of water wasted by flushing the taps.

The municipality has also put in place “consistent guidelines” for staff in all of its buildings regarding water rinsing procedures.

“We track who is flushing the system in the building, so it’s documented, it’s clear to anyone who comes to a faucet to understand when it’s been flushed, and potentially how long that water can stay stagnant again,” he said. Gresley-Jones said.

“So it was clearly deployed and understood by everyone in our buildings. “

Most tenants in the buildings understood the requirements, Cullen said, adding that schools and daycares have been emptying their taps since 2017.

“It’s not a new mitigation, and it’s something they already have in place, so our advice for flushing faucets was in line with existing practices,” she said.

When it comes to water wastage, the RMOW does not have a volumetric estimate of the amount of water used to flush faucets in the municipality, but “the greatest water use in Whistler continues to be irrigation, and businesses that consume a lot of water, ”added communications director Gillian Robinson.

In the case of the Public Safety Building, the Whistler RCMP chose to bring in water coolers and bottled water rather than continuously flushing the faucets, the officer in charge Insp said. Robert Dykstra.

Although the faucet flush works, the RCMP has opted for bottled water “to make it easy and convenient for the members,” Dykstra said.

“So they can just focus on their work, and of course we don’t miss anything at all times. “

After RMOW recommended that the faucets be emptied, a member of the Whistler RCMP submitted an Freedom of Information request for the KWL report.

Although not seeing the test results in advance was a bit worrying, “I think RMOW was clear in terms of recognizing that there was a problem and providing guidance to people who lived and worked in the area. the building to take care of the water problem, so I didn’t care, ”Dykstra said.

“I think we all agree that communication can be a little confusing or imperfect at times, but no, I’m happy with what RMOW has done. I would have liked to see [the report] at first, but we got to this point.

After seeing the results, the RCMP also conducted water tests in the homes they have for members and found high levels of lead and copper similar to those seen in the public security building, said Dykstra.

“So we provided bottled water to the homes where it was a problem,” he said, adding that the RCMP were also working on installing reverse osmosis systems in the homes.

Prick requested a copy of the KWL report, which RMOW provided, along with a technical briefing.

Although it was shared with the board via a verbal briefing, it was not presented in a public meeting, “because it essentially confirmed what we already knew,” Cullen said.

“The only change was the time it took to reach a constant temperature, and that wouldn’t have changed any of the guidelines we had already provided to the public.”

Find more information at Whistler.ca/drinkingwater.

About Ethel Nester

Ethel Nester

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