It’s time for a deep breath in the debate surrounding the chlorination of Chilliwack’s drinking water.
Any decision on the future of the city’s water supply should be based on science, not emotion.
The issue is not about the danger of chlorination, but whether there is a necessity for it.
Two weeks ago Chilliwack residents were stunned to hear the Fraser Health Authority order the city to begin chlorinating its water.
Residents here are rightly proud of the water they drink – a pride that may have surprised Fraser Health’s Dr. Marcus Lem when he told city council that Chilliwack’s water might taste good, but he wouldn’t let his daughter touch it.
Reaction was swift. An online petition already has more than 3,000 signatories.
The anger is based on the arbitrary decision by Fraser Health to order Chilliwack to chlorinate its water based on evidence of E.coli contamination in just three instances over the past five years. There is no evidence the bacteria entered the water system, or that it made anyone ill.
The incidents were isolated, the City of Chilliwack insists, and not indicative of the overall condition of the local water supply.
That position has since been echoed by Fraser Health, but not before the reputation of Chilliwack’s water supply has been disparaged by wildly inaccurate media reports and online speculation.
Chilliwack’s water is unique. Unlike most municipalities, it comes from an underground aquifer that protects it and filters it from the kind of environmental incursions found in water drawn from a lake or reservoir.
That purity — maintained through rigorous testing and ongoing maintenance — keeps the water safe.
For Fraser Health, however, those efforts are clearly not enough. It insists that chlorine, a disinfectant used around the world to make water safe to drink, is the only answer.
True, chlorine would pose little risk to residents. It’s not arsenic.
But is it necessary?
Certainly issues of public health should not be decided by petition. However, they should be based on empirical data that is transparent, verifiable and justifiable.
So far, Fraser Health has failed to provide that.