Public Health considering local solution for water testing

At a February Council meeting, Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau raised the issue of the lack of water testing in the region.

At that time he said that it was very concerning.  “If it has led people to not have their water tested, it certainly will.  We made this very clear to the Minister of Health at ROMA (Rural Ontario Municipal Association) but have not heard anything back from our delegation … nor has Dr. Patel responded to my letter.”

On Tuesday, March 7th, when speaking to the Saugeen Shores Men’s PROBUS Club, the Mayor who also sits on the Grey Bruce Board of Health, said that Grey Bruce Public Health is focusing on a local plan to ensure that all Grey-Bruce residents have access to free well-water testing.

Grey Bruce Public Health (GBPH) has confirmed that it will be consulting with municipalities, businesses, and other partners to develop a local plan aimed at ensuring all Grey-Bruce residents have equitable, convenient access to Public Health Ontario’s free well water testing service.

In a media release on March 8th, Public Health said that the plan would see GBPH establishing and servicing a network of water sample drop-off and pick-up sites replacing and adding to those serviced locally by a Public Health Ontario (PHO) courier to make locations available within a 30-minute drive of any household in Grey-Bruce.

“Public Health Ontario’s private drinking water testing program is a critical, high-demand service in Grey-Bruce that helps to ensure that the water our rural families, farmers, visitors, and others rely on is safe to consume,” says Grey-Bruce Medical Officer of Health Dr. Ian Arra. “Grey Bruce Public Health, along with municipal partners, have been advocating for PHO to increase the number of water sample pick-up and drop-off locations in Grey-Bruce to fill existing gaps, including in Saugeen Shores, which has not had a drop-off location since the start of the pandemic.”

It was recently learned that not only does PHO not intend to increase the number of locations but is actually considering eliminating most of the existing drop-off sites.

“Because of this, we saw an opportunity to take ownership of this issue and create a local solution,” Dr. Arra says.

“We will be connecting with local municipalities for their input as to how we design this plan to ensure it meets the needs of everyone in Grey-Bruce. We wish to thank our municipal partners, including Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau, who have joined Public Health in advocating for an equitable private water testing service in Grey-Bruce.”

“I would like to see the Plex (Port Elgin) serve as a water sample kit pick-up and drop-off location,” said Mayor Luke Charbonneau.

In the meantime, the Ontario Ministry of Health has expressed support for GBPH’s plan to design a local solution.

GBPH will investigate implementing a courier service that could pick up water samples at several new drop-off locations in Grey-Bruce and then transfer the samples to the PHO courier when they service hospitals in the area.

GBPH has, for years, collaborated with Public Health Ontario and other partners to make PHO’s private drinking water testing program available free of charge to Grey-Bruce residents who draw water from wells and other private systems.

Given the region’s geographical size and rural nature, a key to the program’s success in Grey-Bruce is having multiple locations throughout the region where people can pick up water sample kits and drop off water samples. Water samples would then be collected and transported by a PHO courier to a lab in London for testing.

According to Public health, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy changes by Grey-Bruce hospitals resulted in a reduction in the number of available pick-up/drop-off locations in Grey-Bruce. At that time, several grocery stores, that had been deemed essential businesses, stepped up to serve as temporary locations and are still in place along with locations in Owen Sound, Walkerton and Lion’s Head.  Current locations.

Grey Bruce Public Health has also been in discussions with PHO in the hopes of not only re-establishing permanent locations, but actually increasing the number of locations to ensure that all Grey-Bruce residents have equitable access to the program.

As the planning process develops, GBPH has said that it will keep the public advised.