Thursday, March 23, 2017


We all know lifetime smokers who have lived to 75 years of age. Ditto with people who are very overweight and or never exercised a day in their lives. Bad diets and fast food put some people in their graves by the time they are 50. The same diet in a different person and they just seem to keep on going. Toxic work exposures kill people in their 40s and 50s yet the person working beside them survives for another 25 years. Human beings are different plus they are more vulnerable at different stages of their lives.

Trichloroethylene is recognized as an extremely toxic solvent. At one time it was also a very commonly used solvent in industry. It was used as a degreaser. I used it I believe only once when I worked at Varnicolor Chemical in the late 1980s. I was outside wearing an ill fitting respirator spraying it into drums with grease in them. That night when I drove home I had a headache and thought my car's exhaust must be leaking. It wasn't. It was a Trichloroethylene (TCE) headache. I've only had a TCE headache one other time in my life and I didn't recognize it for what it was until much later. I had been in a home in the Bishop St. community in Cambridge. Similar to tobacco you can build up a tolerance to the symptoms of TCE. Thus while the headaches or rashes may go away you are still being harmed.

The current health criteria for TCE in Canada is 5 parts per billion (ppb). Some U.S. jurisdictions have criteria of 3 ppb. I have a vague memory of TCE being at 5 ppb. in Ontario, moving up to 50 ppb in the 90s and then going back down to 5 again. While I'm positive that it used to be at 50 ppb. here I'd really like some confirmation that it had been bumped up to that from 5 before being reduced back to 5 ppb.

I just saved this post (work in progress) and did a five minute Google search to confirm U.S. drinking water criteria for TCE. I knew that some states have lower standards than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and I was expecting around 3 ppb.. I'm in shock! The Minnesota Department of Health states that 2 ppb. TCE in drinking water is safe for most people over a lifetime but they recommend no higher than .4 ppb. in order to protect all consumers. The reduced concentration is to protect pregnant women, fetuses, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. That 2 ppb. seems to match the high levels found in the Middleton drinking water in recent years. Again I have to ask the question as to whether the Region of Waterloo are managing their multimillion dollar enhanced treatment (AOP) to keep just below 2 ppb. TCE rather than to reduce it even further?

Those numbers in the previous paragraph tell me why we currently have an epidemic in cancer rates in Ontario and Canada. Keep in mind drinking water is not remotely the only route of exposure for human beings. The food we eat, the air we breathe, exposure to sun and other skin exposures are all part of the picture.

In the early 1990s the three Middleton St. wells (G1,G2,G3) had Trichloroethylene (TCE), Trichloroethane (TCA), Tetrachloroethane (also known as Perc), and Dichloroethylene (DCE) in them. They had TCE, TCA, Perc and Chloroform in them as well in the 1980s. The probability is that additional toxic chemicals in their own right would only be more hazardous in combination. That said all Ontario (& likely other jurisdictions) base individual criteria on the unlikely assumption that that chemical alone is in the water.

TCE was found in the early 90s at concentrations between 5 and 6 ppb. in well G1. Well G2 was between 7 and 10 ppb. Well G3 was between 7 and 9 ppb..

In the late 1980s well G1 had TCE at 6.4 ppb, well G2 had 13.7 ppb. and well G3 had 14.5 ppb..

TCA was found in the early 90s in well G1 at concentrations between 2 and 5 ppb.. Well G2 had TCA at concentrations between 4 and 11 ppb.. Well G3 was between 5 and 8 ppb..

TCA was found in the late 80s in well G1 at 3.7 ppb.. Well G2 was at 9.3 ppb. and well G3 was at 10.2 ppb..

Perc was found in well G3 in the early 90s between 1 and 2 ppb.. and in slightly lower concentrations in well G2.

Perc was also found in well G2 at 2.2 ppb. and well G3 at 2.5 ppb. in the late 80s.

DCE was also found in well G3 in the early 90s between .4 and .6 ppb..

My interpretation is that the Region of Waterloo have been trying to stay either ahead of or at least within the drinking water standards of the time. I also believe that they have accomplished this through management actions including dilution with other less contaminated wells. They now have a state of the art system at the Middleton wells but appear to be satisfied with keeping TCE present albeit below 2 ppb.. My assumption is that they are saving money on treatment by so doing. That is a management decision and it is wrong. Cambridge residents have a long exposure time (decades) to multiple toxic chemicals in their water and instead of the Region of Waterloo spending money on legacy projects for their politicians (ION) they need to be reducing TCE even further in Cambridge's drinking water.

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