Water. We drink it, cook with it, and use it to keep ourselves clean. Most of us turn on the tap without giving it a second thought, but ensuring that everyone has reliable access to a safe and clean water source is vital.
While a significant amount of work has already been undertaken to ensure we all have clean water, there is still much more to do. That’s why Dr. Graham Gagnon, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada/Halifax Water Industrial Research Chair in Water Quality and Treatment at Dalhousie University, has made clean water the focus of his research. With two major projects, Dr. Gagnon is addressing the protection of public health, and ensuring the sustainability of our drinking water infrastructure.
That work includes establishing the First Nations Clean Water Initiative (Atlantic region), a project Dr. Gagnon has been at the forefront of for the past 10 years.
“Many of the 600-plus First Nation communities in Canada face water problems, including the 33 in the Atlantic provinces,” said Dr. Gagnon “Others like Elsipogtog in New Brunswick have an antiquated water system and infrastructure that requires significant investments to meet the needs of their growing community.”
Owned, constructed, and operated entirely by First Nations communities, this clean water initiative will transform water and wastewater service delivery for First Nation communities in Atlantic Canada not only now, but into the future.
“Having the clean water initiative allows us to be in control, and to make choices that are in the best interest of our people in our communities,” said John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat.
It’s also a way to create Indigenous youth career opportunities from companies that would be contracted to provide goods and services to the water authority.
“It offers a lot of upsides for safe water, but also offers a lot of upsides for the community itself,” said Dr. Gagnon.
The First Nations Clean Water Initiative has the support of the Assembly of First Nations. Other Indigenous communities across Canada could also form their own regional utility to tackle their specific needs.
Dr. Gagnon’s research has also led to new practices that are reducing the amount of lead we are exposed to through drinking water.
“Mitigating exposure to lead in drinking water is an important public health concern for the drinking water industry that was sadly highlighted during the Flint water crisis,” said Dr. Gagnon, referring to the 2014 crisis in Flint, Mich., where lead seeped into drinking water from outdates pipes due to insufficient water treatment, exposing more than 100,000 residents to dangerous levels of toxins.
His work involved looking the lead levels in service lines where partial and full replacements of lead pipes occurred in Halifax. When the full service line was replaced, lead levels were reduced within three days, and continued to drop.
Based on these findings, Halifax Water has decided to move forward with full service line replacements, which will ensure that the mistakes made in Flint and abroad never happen again.
“Our work demonstrated the key benefits of full lead service line replacements, which is now recommended as a best practice by the American Water Works Association,” said Dr. Gagnon.
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