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E. coli surged in False Creek after Vancouver sewage spill, data shows

Click to play video: 'Vancouver sewage spill highlights concern over water quality'
Vancouver sewage spill highlights concern over water quality
Five days after a substantial sewage spill in Downtown Vancouver, we have a better idea of how badly it fouled the already-polluted waters of False Creek. Cassidy Mosconi reports – Jun 24, 2024

Five days after a sewage spill into Vancouver’s False Creek, data has revealed just how much the waters were contaminated.

The Metro Vancouver sewer main in the Olympic Village began leaking early Thursday morning and wasn’t detected for hours.

Testing conducted by Vancouver Coastal Health has since revealed that E. coli levels in parts of False Creek surged to nearly 13,000 per 100 millilitres of water, 55 times the level that would normally trigger an investigation.

Click to play video: 'Raw sewage pours into streets of Vancouver’s Olympic Village after sewer line break'
Raw sewage pours into streets of Vancouver’s Olympic Village after sewer line break

By Friday those levels fell to 7,700, still hazardously high.

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Vancouver Coastal Health will trigger a contamination investigation if a single water sample exceeds a 235 E.coli reading per 100 millilitres.

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“The E. coli levels in False Creek have been an ongoing concern for some time,” Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer Dr. Michael Schwandt said.

“It’s for that reason that swimming, what we call primary-contact activities in the water, are not recommended at any time in False Creek, and certainly after a spill event like we had last week in the area there would be a caution advised, so it’s very important people are obeying those signs posted around False Creek.”

E. coli is the same bacteria that can be found on vegetables or in beef, and in water typically comes from human or animal fecal matter. It can cause gastrointestinal illness, with symptoms including diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Despite the elevated levels, the health authority gave the Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival the go-ahead to proceed with weekend races that drew more than 7,500 racers and crew.

“Obviously a sewer pipe burst is not something that we had hoped for … we have backup plans and we have contingency plans in place, so when we were notified about this situation we activated those,” Dragon Boat B.C. spokesperson Dominic Lai said.

Click to play video: 'Drone show highlights Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver'
Drone show highlights Dragon Boat Festival in Vancouver

“What we did to put everyone’s minds at ease was to expand some of the measures we had on site, providing extra hand wash stations and shower stations just so that people could rinse off.”

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The data comes with Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver shuttered due to its own high E. coli levels.

The health authority is also investigating elevated levels detected at Second and Third Beach in Vancouver, though no closures have been announced.

Schwandt said those contaminations aren’t believed to be linked to the sewage spill in False Creek.

But False Creek’s paddling community is calling the incident a wake-up call, highlighting the need to protect the popular waterway and ensure there’s safe access for its thousands of users.

“We have to make sure our storm sewers are in good enough condition. That’s infrastructure, that takes dollars,” False Creek Racing Canoe Club Commodore Andrea Dillon said.

“No parent wants their six-year-old child on the water when there is a sludge … We need to be on it right away and we need to communicate it to everyone.”

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