Take re­searchers’ ad­vice: Wash your wa­ter bot­tle

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - SUE BAI­LEY

Re­searchers study­ing higher rates of gas­troin­testi­nal ill­ness in Inuit com­mu­ni­ties have a mes­sage for all Cana­di­ans: wash your wa­ter bot­tles and stor­age con­tain­ers.

“Peo­ple don’t re­ally think about it,” said Sher­ilee Harper, co-au­thor of the study re­cently pub­lished in the jour­nal “En­vi­ron­men­tal Science and Pol­lu­tion Re­search.”

“You know, it’s just wa­ter go­ing into the con­tainer so you don’t think to clean it reg­u­larly. I have to tell you, af­ter we did the study I cer­tainly clean my wa­ter bot­tle more of­ten than I did be­fore.”

The Univer­sity of Guelph re­search team took sam­ples from drink­ing wa­ter stored in 104 con­tain­ers at 76 homes in the tiny Inuit com­mu­nity of Rigo­let in Labrador. It has a pop­u­la­tion of around 300.

The wa­ter had typ­i­cally come from one of sev­eral treated dis­pens­ing units in­stalled by the prov­ince in ar­eas with high-risk wa­ter sys­tems. Those units in­clude re­verse os­mo­sis and ul­tra­vi­o­let light for pu­rifi­ca­tion.

But more than one-quar­ter of the home sam­ples first taken in Rigo­let in 2014 tested pos­i­tive for bac­te­ria sug­gest­ing fe­cal con­tam­i­na­tion, said lead re­searcher Car­lee Wright.

Those rates of con­tam­i­na­tion jumped 13 times higher when smaller con­tain­ers or “dip­pers” were used to scoop out wa­ter for drink­ing.

“Wa­ter that would have been ini­tially clean when they col­lected it from the sta­tion can get re­con­tam­i­nated if the con­tain­ers them­selves are not clean,” Wright said.

“We tested stored wa­ter from al­most all the house­holds in Rigo­let and found that about a quar­ter of them had in­di­ca­tor bac­te­ria in them which in­di­cates pos­si­ble fe­cal con­tam­i­na­tion.”

Such con­ta­gions may help ex­plain higher rates of re­ported cases of vom­it­ing, di­ar­rhea and other ill­nesses linked to longer term health ef­fects such as bowel dis­ease. “We did find rates of en­teric ill­ness or acute gas­troin­testi­nal ill­ness to be over 2.4 cases per per­son per year,” she said of Rigo­let.

That’s two to six times the rate for sim­i­lar ill­nesses in other parts of Canada and coun­tries such as the U.S., Chile, Ar­gentina, Cuba, China, Poland and Italy, said Harper.

Rigo­let res­i­dent Char­lie Flow­ers said he and his fam­ily had al­ways blamed such bouts on a stom­ach bug “or some food not agree­ing with us.”

“It didn’t even oc­cur to us that the wa­ter we were drink­ing could be the cul­prit.”

Flow­ers, 34, has lived in the Rigo­let area all his life. He said his fam­ily uses tap wa­ter for clean­ing but prefers wa­ter from the com­mu­nity dis­pens­ing unit for drink­ing and cook­ing. “From time to time when we’re out on the land, or when the wa­ter dis­pens­ing unit is shut down for re­pairs, we will col­lect wa­ter from brooks, melted snow, home­made wells or even store-bought wa­ter,” he said in an email ex­change.

“We pre­fer the taste of the wa­ter from the dis­pens­ing unit to that of the tap wa­ter, as it has a clearer colour and doesn’t have the chlo­rine taste that tap wa­ter does.”

Wright said the re­sults are rel­e­vant far be­yond re­mote com­mu­ni­ties. “If you have a wa­ter cooler in your house or a wa­ter pitcher in your fridge, I think these same sorts of prin­ci­ples and mes­sages about clean­ing con­tain­ers, they still ap­ply to ev­ery­one.”

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