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Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water notice issued Dec. 14

The City of Prince Rupert continues to be under a boil water notice, and officials expect it to last another week.

On Friday, Dec. 14, more than 12,000 residents were notified that they must boil water for at least one minute until further notice after high levels of giardia and cryptosporidium were found in the city water. As of deadline the situation hasn’t changed.


Giardia is a microscopic parasite that can infect the intestines in both humans and animals — also known as ‘beaver fever’. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea and fatigue.

Cryptosporidium is also a microscopic parasite that can cause gastrointestinal infections with the most common symptom being watery diarrhea, as well as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, a mild fever and dehydration. The infection is passed through feces, so people who have diarrhea should not attend work or school, or go to any public facilities such as the pool, where they can pass it on.

Northern Health said the boil water notice was issued as a precautionary measure, and people should follow the guidelines set out by the City of Prince Rupert.

“The risk of health effects is low, for any questions contact HealthLinkBC or visit a physician’s office,” said Eryn Collins, spokesperson with Northern Health.

The number for HealthLink BC is 811, and she said they are prepared to take calls from residents concerned with this particular issue.

HealthLinkBC’s site states that a person can be infected and have no symptoms.

However, symptoms tend to start from two to 10 days after exposure to the parasite and can last an average of one to two weeks. For people with a weakened immune system, such as young children and seniors, the infection may last longer.

A water testing facility in Prince Rupert continues to monitor the levels of both crypto and giardia.

READ MORE: Boil water notice in effect for Prince Rupert

What to do

Until then, the entire city must boil their water for one minute for everything including washing the dishes, brushing teeth, washing and so on.

In a lengthy post by Mayor Lee Brain, he warns pet owners that they must boil their water, then let it cool, for their pets, and while it’s safe for adults and teens to take showers with untreated water, parents should sponge bath young children.

Prince Rupert resident, Dave Boyle, has three children and he said he’s been busy.

“Just a lot of boiling water. We constantly have a couple of pots boiling. I don’t know what the cost of that will be,” he said.

Mayor Brain said that water filtration devices are not safe to use either.

Residents who have been drinking the boiled water say that they don’t like the taste.

“I’m drinking a lot of Powerade and it’s not good for me,” said Mamie Lawson. “Boiling is not as convenient and the taste after you boil it is funny.”

The colour of the water is notably yellow, but this is not unusual. The city’s water comes from an above ground lake and the tannins in the water cause the discolouration.

“Although we understand why the colour can be off-putting, in our case it has more to do with the source, rather than the quality of water,” Brain said.

Upgrades to the city’s water supply have been an ongoing effort by the municipality. Currently, water is being pulled from Shawatlan Lake, the city’s secondary water source, while the principal water source at Woodworth Lake undergoes necessary renovations. The water infrastructure is approximately 100 years old, and the dam is expected to be rebuilt in 2019.

While the city has applied for grant funds to improve its water treatment.

Businesses affected

Due to the notice, Prince Rupert businesses are experiencing some setbacks.

At Tim Hortons, assistant manager Mila Johnson said they have to have an extra employee on shift who is solely in charge of boiling water.

“Hand washing policy is unchanged, we just have to pre-boil water before washing our hands in it,” Johnson said.

Tims has also shut down all their iced beverage stations, however, they are still serving coffee.

“We double boil our coffee, once in the back to 100 Celsius then we manually add in the pre-boiled water to the coffee machine,” Johnson said.

“We tried to find solutions, but whatever we can’t do manually we shut down.”

The Crest Hotel is also being extra cautious during the boil water notice.

“We aren’t able to serve coffee, tea or soda on tap at the moment,” said Kayla Dollimount, a supervisor at The Crest.

Water fountains at the Lester Centre and Charles Hays Secondary School have also been shut down until the boil notice has been lifted.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s is on its own filtration system, but owner Dave Wood said they took precautions until they were cleared by Northern Health.

“It took until Saturday morning to hear from Northern Health that our filtration system was approved,” he said. “Business as normal.”

How did this happen?

The last boil water notice was more than a decade ago. So how did this all happen? The city is blaming ‘Mother Nature’ — a dry summer followed by the recent storms. This has increased the debris in the water supply, and high levels of cryptosporidium and giardiasis.

Groups with high risks to cryptosporidium include child care workers and parents of infected children, people with lowered immune systems and chronically sick children.

Finding fresh water

Both the city’s largest grocery stores Save on Foods and Safeway, ran out of water Sunday, Dec. 16, morning.

“We had about six skids this morning,” said Ranjit Gill, assistant store manager of Safeway.

With approximately 82 cases on each skid, that equates to nearly 2,000 bottles of water, and other varieties of water, that sold in Safeway alone.

“We have placed an emergency order to come in for tomorrow. I’ve got about 20 pallets plus coming tomorrow,” Gill said on Sunday, Dec. 16.

One of the trucks arrived Monday morning.

“We’re definitely doing our best to make sure we’re taking care of our customers and our community.”

While Prince Rupert is under the notice, the District of Port Edward is not. The district has its own water supply and treatment plant.

Chief administrative officer, Bob Payette, said if Prince Rupert residents want to travel to Port Edward to gather water, they can.

Councillor James Brown shared with the Northern View that there is safe free water at the Port Edward RV water tap on Skeena Drive, and for people to bring their own containers.

At the hospital

Northern Health has not reported an influx of patients due to the water, as of Dec. 17. When the boil water notice was issued, the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, Acropolis Manor and Summit Residences received an increased supply of bottled water for patients and staff, said Eryn Collins, spokesperson with Northern Health.

“The supplies being replenished as needed. One of the things we’ve also done is removed any ice that was made from tap water sources for patient consumption, we’re still able to use the ice for injury treatment or rehab purposes,” she said.

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A microscopic image of cryptosporidiosis in a stool sample. (Pixnio image)
Prince Rupert is under a boil water advisory for the next week. Residents who want to purchase water will pay up to $49.50 for a flat at some convenience stores. (Nick Laws / The Northern View)
The shelves at local grocery stores have become barren after many residents stocked up (Nick Laws / The Northern View)
Even the purified jugs of water are no longer available to customers at this local grocery store (Nick Laws / The Northern View)
Chris and Paige Armstrong weren’t able to purchase any water at Safeway on Sunday afternoon. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)