Another boil-water advisory has been posted for Our Lady of the Way School in Stratton, and the local Catholic board is investigating where its new water quality system failed.
“We’re still trying to get to the bottom of this,” Chris Howarth, superintendent of business for the Northwest Catholic District School Board, said Tuesday.
A previous boil-water advisory had been lifted in mid-September after additional water tanks and chlorinators were installed at the school over the summer.
Contractors also had capped the well so groundwater and other pollutants could not seep in.
But Howarth received a call on the morning of Oct. 19 to say the school had been put back under the boil-water advisory by the Northwestern Health Unit.
The board isn’t exactly sure what is causing the school’s water woes.
“We think the problem is with the design,” Howarth said. “The chlorine tank may be on the wrong side of the water softener so that the softener is taking out the chlorine.”
“We put in the system according to specifications according to the engineer,” he noted.
Immediately, crews from contractor Craig Plumbing of Thunder Bay were brought in to work on the system.
Tests are being taken on both sides of the water softener to find out where the bacteria is coming from. They also are looking into the pre-existing pipe system to see if that is the problem.
In order for the health unit to lift the boil-water advisory, two consecutive “clean” tests must come back from the lab. Howarth estimated it would be at least another week before the water would be deemed potable again.
“We’re not taking any chances. We are not letting people drink the water until it’s safe,” he stressed.
That doesn’t mean students had been drinking the water before it had tested positive to bacteria such as fecal coliform.
Howarth said a chemical called toluene, found often in paints and fingernail polish, was being flushed from the system and no one was drinking the water at that time.
“[Toluene] is not necessarily harmful but it has a pungent odour,” he explained.
In addition to investigating the new equipment, the local board is bringing in water systems specialist Veikko Long from Thunder Bay to work with custodial staff who will be in charge of taking water samples and maintaining the system.
At its regular monthly meeting Sept. 21 in Stratton, the board had hoped water quality issues were resolved at the school.
“It’s frustrating. I suppose people have been drinking water in rural areas like this for years,” Howarth said. “With the very in-depth testing here now, we are finding things in [the water] and it’s a lot of work trying to bring this to a close.”
In the meantime, he praised staff who have been hauling water in from other areas, such as the school’s secretary who brings water in from Rainy River every day.
“It has been very frustrating but the staff has been very good, the parents have been good, and the students have been good about this,” Howarth said.
“We are doing the best we can and not without significant cost coming to the board,” Howarth added. “We will get this resolved.”