Water concerns must be cleared up 

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The question that everyone really wants to know is who knew what when in the turbid Pemberton water scandal.

Current Mayor Mike Richman is keeping his cool while some community members are calling for, at the very least, full accountability on this as the story develops.

What must be top of mind for most of our neighbours in Pemberton is how much lead they, and their families, have unknowingly consumed.

A pervasive environmental contaminant, the injurious health effects of lead exposure in children particularly is well documented. Most experts believe there is no safe level in kids.

The news that there is lead in the water in some Pemberton homes and buildings broke last week in a news release, which the Village of Pemberton sent to media outlets and some other organizations.

The lead is being released by the erosion of some piping due to the low acidity (pH) level of Pemberton water (below 6.5).

The fact that the water has a low pH has been publicly known — and known by local government — for over a decade. Which leaves me scratching my head about why someone in the the Pemberton Public Works department would not have had a huge alarm go off in their heads about what low pH can do to some pipes.

After all, stories about this type of thing happening have been in the news for years. Washington, D.C. had a scare in the 2000s, Ohio is in the news right now, and lead in the pipes of northern B.C. homes is also well known— just Google it. Lead in water from pipes is a well-known phenomenon.

Homes in B.C. built before 1989 may have copper or lead piping, which makes it more likely that water flowing through those pipes has higher levels of lead, and adding in the low pH makes the situation more serious.

And while there is nothing yet to suggest it is on the scale of Flint, Mich., which was declared a federal state of emergency recently after the Flint River's corrosive water caused lead from aging pipes to leach into the water supply, causing extremely elevated levels of the heavy metal, it is interesting to note that several lawsuits have already been filed there, and up to six people have already resigned, been fired or are being investigated for their mismanagement.

You can buy testing kits at many hardware outlets or online, and public health authorities are telling people to allow their water to run until it is cold to ensure that any sitting water than may contain leeched lead goes down the drain and not down your throat.

But again, what about the water that has been consumed since the dissolving pipes were first brought to the Village of Pemberton council in 2006 and were, in fact, written about in Pique.

In a memo dated Oct.19, 2006, Pemberton consultants EarthTech, stated: "Based on our understanding the only complaints about the quality of water relate to concerns about the corrosiveness of the water. The most recent complaint was issued on September 15, 2005 from Shannon Gibson."

It also goes on to state: "The lower pH levels of 6.5 in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (GCDWQ) is set because test results have shown that water with a pH below 6.5 can result in leaching undesirable compounds from the plumbing and piping systems of water distribution."

I applaud the VOP for getting the word out about the lead concerns, but more needs to be done. The residents are concerned and what is needed now are facts and concrete solutions for the problem in the short and long term.

A public open house on the issue with experts needs to be organized now.

VOP officials need to investigate the chain of command and determine why this situation was not investigated thoroughly when the low pH situation first came to light.

Obviously community awareness existed on some level. Pemberton resident Maureen Douglas writes to tell Pique that:

• Staff at the Pemberton Community Centre actively encourage users not to drink the water from the taps or fountains. They recommend that people get their water from the plumbed water filtration dispenser in the exercise gym.

• Children and youth at Signal Hill Elementary School and Pemberton Secondary have complained for years about the taste and quality of the water in the schools and many have refused to drink it.

• Some insurers have learned of the corrosive nature of Pemberton water and are denying claim coverage to residents who experience flooding due to fitting failures or eroded pinhole leaks in pipes.

• For several years, plumbers have been expressing their concerns about the rate of plumbing system failures, including at public meetings and all-candidate meetings.

Water safety is a touchstone issue in communities and one that local governments need to hold to the highest threshold possible.

And while the contaminated water situation may only be in some of Pemberton's buildings, the whole town is being affected by the fallout.


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