City tried to convey 'actual meaning' behind water advisory

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

The E.coli is long gone, but resentment is festering over Carlisle's recent boil water advisory.

Carlisle resident Stan Haworth has lodged a complaint with both the mayor's office and Hamilton's health department, because he first read about the contamination in the newspaper, four days after the fact. He claims the health department denied the existence of E. coli in the water, instead referring to the contamination as "bacterial."

The Flamborough community was placed under a boil water advisory October 11, after two tests from Sunday showed trace levels of E. coli bacteria. The advisory was lifted three days later, late Friday morning, once Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health was satisfied of the system's safety.

Haworth had arrived home Tuesday evening to reports from his wife that radio broadcasts had put the community under the advisory, so Haworth phoned the health hotline for more information.

"They said it was a bacterial infection," said Haworth. "I asked if it was E. coli, and the person said no. They said it was a precautionary measure and that it was mild."

A city worker appeared at the door shortly after, notifying residents in person of the advisory. He also said it was a mild bacterial infection. Haworth guessed it was Total coliform - a harmless bacteria itself, but an indication that organisms can survive the water treatment process, which could leave the door open for pathogenic strains.

"He didn't contradict me," said Haworth. "He didn't say it was E. coli."

It wasn't until he picked up his daily paper on Friday morning that Haworth learned the full cause of the advisory.

"It was a revelation for me. I had been told it was not E. coli," said Haworth.

According to Eric Mathews, Manager of Health Protection for Hamilton, no worker was told to outright deny the existence of E. coli in the water. However, staff felt that the bacteria, which killed seven and left thousands ill in Walkerton, carried too much emotional weight.

"It's associated with severe illness and mortality," he said. "It creates anxiety." Health officials felt it was more important to communicate "the actual meaning behind the advisory," he said. Therefore, staff was directed to explain that the water had a mild bacterial contamination, with a possibility of pathogenic strains, and that the advisory was precautionary, he said.

But that's not acceptable to Haworth.

"They're treating us like children and not telling us the facts," he said. "The city should be frank and open. We're a pretty sophisticated bunch up here. We know all about E. coli. They shouldn't be trying to conceal it from us."

There are more than 1,000 strains of E. coli, most of which live harmlessly in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Only a handful is pathogenic to humans. However, because the water test performed daily at the Carlisle wells doesn't differentiate between the harmless and deadly forms, the boil water advisory was imposed as a precautionary measure, said Mathews.

Critics have also expressed concern that end users of the system don't have adequate testing. Currently, taps in the arena and medical centre are used to test end use of the water, rather than private homes.

City officials need to test the same sites each time, said Mathews. "We need to be comparing apples to apples."

Homes may have supply tie-ins or other factors the city is unaware of, which can dramatically affect results. As well, access to the same home several times per week would be impractical. In contrast, the medical centre and arena are always open and accessible to city staff, he said.

A total of six sites were selected for re-testing once the E. coli was detected. E. coli was only detected in the community's well, and only in Sunday's sample. The groundwater and distribution system were both free of contamination.

The fact that bacteria only appeared in treated water raised eyebrows in the city's water treatment department; it made no scientific sense, according to Abdul Khan, manager of water treatment. Further complicating the results was a complete lack of Total Coliform, which is usually found in levels of five parts or higher in E. coli contaminated water. All he had were four isolated E. coli cells.

These findings have led staff to suspect human error as the root cause of the contamination.

"The samples are collected by a human, they are transported, and they are tested by a human," he said. Although Hamilton's lab is rated as a top facility by the Ministry of the Environment, and sample collectors use stringent safety measures, "sometimes things happen," he said, adding that the tests are extremely sensitive. Even coughing or sniffling within several feet of a sample can result in contamination, he said.

Not all residents in Carlisle were scrubbing counters with bleach and boiling water last week. Balaclava School has its own private well, and multiple tests by both the school board and Public Health gave the water a clean bill of health.

City tried to convey 'actual meaning' behind water advisory

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

The E.coli is long gone, but resentment is festering over Carlisle's recent boil water advisory.

Carlisle resident Stan Haworth has lodged a complaint with both the mayor's office and Hamilton's health department, because he first read about the contamination in the newspaper, four days after the fact. He claims the health department denied the existence of E. coli in the water, instead referring to the contamination as "bacterial."

The Flamborough community was placed under a boil water advisory October 11, after two tests from Sunday showed trace levels of E. coli bacteria. The advisory was lifted three days later, late Friday morning, once Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health was satisfied of the system's safety.

Haworth had arrived home Tuesday evening to reports from his wife that radio broadcasts had put the community under the advisory, so Haworth phoned the health hotline for more information.

"They said it was a bacterial infection," said Haworth. "I asked if it was E. coli, and the person said no. They said it was a precautionary measure and that it was mild."

A city worker appeared at the door shortly after, notifying residents in person of the advisory. He also said it was a mild bacterial infection. Haworth guessed it was Total coliform - a harmless bacteria itself, but an indication that organisms can survive the water treatment process, which could leave the door open for pathogenic strains.

"He didn't contradict me," said Haworth. "He didn't say it was E. coli."

It wasn't until he picked up his daily paper on Friday morning that Haworth learned the full cause of the advisory.

"It was a revelation for me. I had been told it was not E. coli," said Haworth.

According to Eric Mathews, Manager of Health Protection for Hamilton, no worker was told to outright deny the existence of E. coli in the water. However, staff felt that the bacteria, which killed seven and left thousands ill in Walkerton, carried too much emotional weight.

"It's associated with severe illness and mortality," he said. "It creates anxiety." Health officials felt it was more important to communicate "the actual meaning behind the advisory," he said. Therefore, staff was directed to explain that the water had a mild bacterial contamination, with a possibility of pathogenic strains, and that the advisory was precautionary, he said.

But that's not acceptable to Haworth.

"They're treating us like children and not telling us the facts," he said. "The city should be frank and open. We're a pretty sophisticated bunch up here. We know all about E. coli. They shouldn't be trying to conceal it from us."

There are more than 1,000 strains of E. coli, most of which live harmlessly in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Only a handful is pathogenic to humans. However, because the water test performed daily at the Carlisle wells doesn't differentiate between the harmless and deadly forms, the boil water advisory was imposed as a precautionary measure, said Mathews.

Critics have also expressed concern that end users of the system don't have adequate testing. Currently, taps in the arena and medical centre are used to test end use of the water, rather than private homes.

City officials need to test the same sites each time, said Mathews. "We need to be comparing apples to apples."

Homes may have supply tie-ins or other factors the city is unaware of, which can dramatically affect results. As well, access to the same home several times per week would be impractical. In contrast, the medical centre and arena are always open and accessible to city staff, he said.

A total of six sites were selected for re-testing once the E. coli was detected. E. coli was only detected in the community's well, and only in Sunday's sample. The groundwater and distribution system were both free of contamination.

The fact that bacteria only appeared in treated water raised eyebrows in the city's water treatment department; it made no scientific sense, according to Abdul Khan, manager of water treatment. Further complicating the results was a complete lack of Total Coliform, which is usually found in levels of five parts or higher in E. coli contaminated water. All he had were four isolated E. coli cells.

These findings have led staff to suspect human error as the root cause of the contamination.

"The samples are collected by a human, they are transported, and they are tested by a human," he said. Although Hamilton's lab is rated as a top facility by the Ministry of the Environment, and sample collectors use stringent safety measures, "sometimes things happen," he said, adding that the tests are extremely sensitive. Even coughing or sniffling within several feet of a sample can result in contamination, he said.

Not all residents in Carlisle were scrubbing counters with bleach and boiling water last week. Balaclava School has its own private well, and multiple tests by both the school board and Public Health gave the water a clean bill of health.

City tried to convey 'actual meaning' behind water advisory

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

The E.coli is long gone, but resentment is festering over Carlisle's recent boil water advisory.

Carlisle resident Stan Haworth has lodged a complaint with both the mayor's office and Hamilton's health department, because he first read about the contamination in the newspaper, four days after the fact. He claims the health department denied the existence of E. coli in the water, instead referring to the contamination as "bacterial."

The Flamborough community was placed under a boil water advisory October 11, after two tests from Sunday showed trace levels of E. coli bacteria. The advisory was lifted three days later, late Friday morning, once Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health was satisfied of the system's safety.

Haworth had arrived home Tuesday evening to reports from his wife that radio broadcasts had put the community under the advisory, so Haworth phoned the health hotline for more information.

"They said it was a bacterial infection," said Haworth. "I asked if it was E. coli, and the person said no. They said it was a precautionary measure and that it was mild."

A city worker appeared at the door shortly after, notifying residents in person of the advisory. He also said it was a mild bacterial infection. Haworth guessed it was Total coliform - a harmless bacteria itself, but an indication that organisms can survive the water treatment process, which could leave the door open for pathogenic strains.

"He didn't contradict me," said Haworth. "He didn't say it was E. coli."

It wasn't until he picked up his daily paper on Friday morning that Haworth learned the full cause of the advisory.

"It was a revelation for me. I had been told it was not E. coli," said Haworth.

According to Eric Mathews, Manager of Health Protection for Hamilton, no worker was told to outright deny the existence of E. coli in the water. However, staff felt that the bacteria, which killed seven and left thousands ill in Walkerton, carried too much emotional weight.

"It's associated with severe illness and mortality," he said. "It creates anxiety." Health officials felt it was more important to communicate "the actual meaning behind the advisory," he said. Therefore, staff was directed to explain that the water had a mild bacterial contamination, with a possibility of pathogenic strains, and that the advisory was precautionary, he said.

But that's not acceptable to Haworth.

"They're treating us like children and not telling us the facts," he said. "The city should be frank and open. We're a pretty sophisticated bunch up here. We know all about E. coli. They shouldn't be trying to conceal it from us."

There are more than 1,000 strains of E. coli, most of which live harmlessly in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Only a handful is pathogenic to humans. However, because the water test performed daily at the Carlisle wells doesn't differentiate between the harmless and deadly forms, the boil water advisory was imposed as a precautionary measure, said Mathews.

Critics have also expressed concern that end users of the system don't have adequate testing. Currently, taps in the arena and medical centre are used to test end use of the water, rather than private homes.

City officials need to test the same sites each time, said Mathews. "We need to be comparing apples to apples."

Homes may have supply tie-ins or other factors the city is unaware of, which can dramatically affect results. As well, access to the same home several times per week would be impractical. In contrast, the medical centre and arena are always open and accessible to city staff, he said.

A total of six sites were selected for re-testing once the E. coli was detected. E. coli was only detected in the community's well, and only in Sunday's sample. The groundwater and distribution system were both free of contamination.

The fact that bacteria only appeared in treated water raised eyebrows in the city's water treatment department; it made no scientific sense, according to Abdul Khan, manager of water treatment. Further complicating the results was a complete lack of Total Coliform, which is usually found in levels of five parts or higher in E. coli contaminated water. All he had were four isolated E. coli cells.

These findings have led staff to suspect human error as the root cause of the contamination.

"The samples are collected by a human, they are transported, and they are tested by a human," he said. Although Hamilton's lab is rated as a top facility by the Ministry of the Environment, and sample collectors use stringent safety measures, "sometimes things happen," he said, adding that the tests are extremely sensitive. Even coughing or sniffling within several feet of a sample can result in contamination, he said.

Not all residents in Carlisle were scrubbing counters with bleach and boiling water last week. Balaclava School has its own private well, and multiple tests by both the school board and Public Health gave the water a clean bill of health.