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EDITORIAL: Clean drinking water is vital

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What’s more important than water? To life, to health, to governments tasked with providing it to their residents?

It’s an easy answer when you think about it. Just try finding something we need that is more vital. Food is up there on the list, for sure. But when you look at services over atmosphere and goods, then water runs supreme.

The towns of St. Paul’s, Lourdes, Pasadena, McIvers, Steady Brook, Rocky Harbour, Gillams, some of Cox’s Cove and Meadows all fall short of the Health Canada standard for trihalomethanes (THM) levels.

What does this mean, exactly? Well, no one is saying it’s a good thing. The severity of the risks is unknown, as it is largely based on long-standing consumption.

The biggest issue with THM levels, of course, is that Health Canada is not enforcing THM level standard in communities, nor does the province, from what we gather. Basically, this means communities can have THM levels in their drinking water that are higher than recommended by Health Canada for as long as they want, and unless there’s a will of council to deal with it, they will continue to exceed the standard.

Of course, improving the filtration system of a town is a little more complicated than an oil change for your car. A boil order just won’t work for THMs. It takes engineering and new equipment and, most importantly, money.

The financial well-being of most small towns in Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t allow for it. Imagine the tiny tax base of St. Paul’s being asked to increase their taxes 10-fold to pay for it. They just can’t. Other communities are in the same boat. Help is needed.

Pasadena, with its 3,600 residents (and growing), is in a little better financial position, but the will has to be there to do something about it.

“Even though they have a standard here, nobody really enforces it,” said Mayor Gary Bishop. “Nobody from Health Canada or the province comes in to us and tells us to do this or that.”

If no other level of government is going to tell the town what to do, maybe it’s time the residents should.

Or maybe municipal governments with the means can take action and just do the work without being forced to.

Pasadena is hiring an expert to look into it. That’s an important first step. To follow, take the money earmarked for a new fleet of pickup trucks, or the couple hundred thousand being considered for a new sidewalk tractor, and put that toward water filtration.

The other terribly sad part of this issue is that no one is talking about it. It might be because excess levels of THMs do not have immediate health effects, or that it’s not fully known what those are.

This doesn’t mean, however, they are not real.

Communities, big and small, have a moral obligation to let their residents know when they’re not meeting national health standards and what they can do about it.

Regular communication is not only key, it’s easy.

How hard is it to send a memo to residents to ensure the water they drink should go through a personal filtration system before consumption? It may not win political points, but it’s transparent, responsible and the right thing to do. Keeping people aware of possible side-effects shows them the community has their back.

You won’t find a resident who wouldn’t be grateful for that.

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