Risk too great for FHA

The public health risk of E.coli contamination outweighs any perceived threat, or inconvenience caused by chlorination, says Fraser Health

There were few converts coming out of the Alliance Church following Tuesday night’s information meeting on the planned chlorination of Chilliwack’s drinking water.

The Fraser Health Authority, through Dr. Paul Van Buynder, made a simple case for secondary disinfection: The public health risk of E.coli contamination outweighs any perceived threat, or inconvenience caused by chlorination.

The audience reaction was just as blunt: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

At least that was the polite response.

The more jaded brought up everything from a tenuous link to cancer, to the intrusion of a nanny state into the everyday lives of Chilliwack citizenry.

The anger and distrust in the audience was palpable. But so too was the suspicion that Fraser Health’s agenda was anything but the welfare of the people it is mandated to protect.

Their anger is understandable; the FHA’s bedside manner to date has hardly been inspiring.

Too be fair, however, Fraser Health is simply playing the odds. The infrastructure needed to deliver Chilliwack’s pristine water from its source to the tap is vulnerable, Dr. Van Buynder argues, perhaps not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. And the bigger it gets, the more vulnerable it becomes.

When it is compromised, the best-case scenario puts detection of an E.coli outbreak at four days – nine days at the worst. If the E.coli strain is particularly virulent, the consequences for the young and the elderly would be grave: severe diarrhea, kidney failure, death.

For Dr. Van Buynder, that’s a chance no public health official can take.

It may be an unpopular decision, he’ll argue, but issues of public health are not decided by the number of “likes” they get on a Facebook page.

If the City of Chilliwack wants to keep chlorine out of its water it will have to guarantee its complex network of pipelines, reservoirs and cross-connections will never fail.

That’s a tall order, even for a city whose pride in its water quality is reflected in the rigorous testing and maintenance already under way.

But anything less won’t satisfy Fraser Health. The odds are against it.