Jail water unsafe
Unsafe levels of arsenic, uranium found in Sleepy Hollow water supply
Unsafe levels of arsenic and uranium found in the P.E.I. provincial jail’s groundwater supply have forced inmates and staff to use bottled water for the last several weeks.
Arsenic and uranium are both naturally occurring in groundwater, which is P.E.I.’s only source of drinking water, according to George Somers, manager of the province’s drinking and wastewater division. “It’s just part of the natural breakdown of the minerals in the bedrock, so depending on how long water has been in contact with it, it will pick some of this up,” he explained.
The vast majority of P.E.I. groundwater tested by the province contains only trace amounts safely below national guidelines based on lifetime consumption.
But the groundwater source at the provincial correctional facility, better known as Sleepy Hollow, was found to exceed those guidelines.
The consumption guideline for uranium is 0.02 milligrams per litre, and the jail tested at around 0.05, while the guideline for arsenic is 0.01 milligrams per litre and the jail tested positive for at 0.02 milligrams per litre.
There have been no reports of illness among inmates or employees, but they have been using bottled water for drinking and food preparation for the last several weeks.
Washing and showering has been allowed, as the guidelines are only for consumption.
Since these elements are naturally occurring in groundwater, they can’t be removed from the actual water source, Somers said.
“It’s not like a bacterial contamination or a hydrocarbon spill where you can clean up something or disinfect something, there’s no likelihood that the concentrations you see now will change over time.”
That’s why the province is now looking at options for a long-term solution. The facility must either find an alternate water supply or treat the water once it has been removed.
“Several options are under consideration including enhanced water treatment, construction of new wells and connection to the Charlottetown municipal water supply, however the latter option will depend on talks with the City of Charlottetown,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy.
“Until the problem is corrected, we will continue supplying bottled water to the facility.”
Somers says there are no easy ways to predict where arsenic and uranium will turn up in P.E.I. groundwater, so he suggests regular water testing.
“It’s almost random chance what wells will be affected and which aren’t, so the bottom line is that we recommend everyone, whether it’s a municipal utility or a facility like this or a private homeowner – to test their water on a periodic basis.”
The jail has a standalone water supply, so this issue only affects the correctional facility. There is no known contamination to any nearby homes or businesses.