Jail wa­ter un­safe

Un­safe lev­els of ar­senic, ura­nium found in Sleepy Hol­low wa­ter sup­ply

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERESA WRIGHT

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.

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