Medical officer of heath Dr. Janice Fitzgerald hopes people concerned about disinfection byproducts make informed decisions

Officials with the Department of Health and Community Services is pushing people to make the right decision when it comes to disinfection byproducts.
Officials with the Department of Health and Community Services is pushing people to make the right decision when it comes to disinfection byproducts. – 123RF Stock Photo

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says it’s up to each person to make an informed decision when it comes to choosing to drink their town’s water.

Fitzgerald is the Department of Health and Community Services’ medical officer of health for the western Newfoundland region.

The Western Star had requested an interview with Health and Community Minister John Haggie on the issue of high levels of disinfection byproducts in many of the province’s communities. Haggie deferred the interview to Fitzgerald.

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Pasadena, St. Paul’s among the towns grappling with unacceptable THM levels in its drinking water

The issue of byproducts such as trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) had been brought to the public’s attention during a public meeting of Pasadena’s town council in October during which council discussed the fact byproduct levels in its drinking water did not meet Health Canada’s standards.

Pasadena is far from alone in having this issue, with roughly one-third of the province’s communities having levels ranging from just above to well above what the federal government deems acceptable.

Long-term exposure to excessive levels of THMs and HAAs, created by the interaction of chlorine with organic materials naturally found in surface water supplies, has been linked to cancer, reproductive issues and other illnesses.

Fitzgerald acknowledged there is a risk of disinfection byproducts from chlorination, but said those risks do not outweigh the more immediate risks associated with not disinfecting water.

While chlorination removes harmful bacteria that can cause more immediate illnesses, Fitzgerald said there are ways people can reduce the amounts of byproducts and chlorine that flows from their taps.

“If people are concerned, they can certainly help to protect themselves by using carbon filters,” said Fitzgerald, noting such filters must meet the NSF Standard 53 for removing byproducts.

She felt most communities with disinfection byproduct issues are trying to address the challenge of lowering the levels to acceptable standards. When asked if these communities should help residents access filters, Fitzgerald said it’s not for her to say what services communities should be providing in that regard.

“We would hope communities would be informing people of these levels and letting them make informed decisions about their health,” she commented.

Fitzgerald noted there no conclusive evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between disinfection byproducts and ill health, only correlations. While there are efforts to test other methods that do not use chlorine and do not create these byproducts, she said chlorinating is still the preferred method right now.

“Chlorine is readily available, easy to use, relatively affordable and works really well,” she said. “Most Canadian areas do use chlorine as well, so we’re not doing anything out of the ordinary.”

Water Chlorination and Disinfection By–Products:

Home Drinking Water Treatment Units:

Collecting and Storing Your Drinking Water Safely:

A Guide to Safe Drinking Water: