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Montreal boil water advisory lifted: tap water is safe to drink

MONTREAL – After thanking citizens for their patience after two days without safe, clean water, the city’s mayor had these words for Montrealers late Thursday night:

“Bacteriological analyses have confirmed that the water is of good quality and meets all regulatory requirements.”

In other words, the boil water advisory has ended and tap water is now safe to drink.

At 10:15 p.m., Mayor Michael Applebaum, accompanied by Montreal’s executive committee member responsible for public security, Christian Dubois, executive committee president Laurent Blanchard, director of water services Chantal Morissette and the new head of Montreal’s Fire department, François Massé, presented the analysis and results of tests conducted on Wednesday evening.

More than a million Montrealers faced two days without access to clean, safe water after officials issued the largest boil water advisory in the city’s history.

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The result? School children bringing bottled water to class, signs over water fountains in hospital wards, a near-crisis caused by a lack of coffee and an enormous social media backlash.

On Thursday afternoon, city officials announced that the advisory would remain in place Thursday night.

“The system is working, the water is clear, what is coming out now is drinkable,” said Montreal’s executive committee member responsible for public security, Christian Dubois.

“Unfortunately, what is in the network is not.”

boil water presser
Montreal city officials held a press conference Thursday to announce that the boil-water advisory would not be lifted. Aalia Adam/Global News

Water samples were taken from 44 different locations on the island. These all needed to be tested and thoroughly analyzed in order to confirm the water is safe.

Uncertain about whether where you live is affected? Check out our map here.

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The boil water advisory was called after a problem at the Atwater filtration plant.

As part of a standard procedure, two-thirds of the reservoir was emptied, but for an unknown reason, more water was drained, causing sediment to rise to the surface and enter the water mains system.

Officials have been conducting water tests to make sure there is no dangerous contaminants, although they believe the water only contains sediment, and not bacteria.

Bacterial levels the test results will indicate to what extent, if any, the water has been contaminated and until the tests come back, the boil-water advisory will remain in place.

Although the water advisory notice did not apply to most West Island residents, many were concerned. Watch the report here.

Wondering how Montreal’s water treatment compares to centres across Canada? Check out our round-up here. 

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“We think that it’s just preventive and that it isn’t harmful,” Montreal Fire Department Division Chief Gordon Routley told Global News on Wednesday.

“There’s no report of bacterial contamination at this point.”

It fact, it’s very unusual, for such a wide-ranging advisory to be made.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced this sort of thing in more than 30 years in Montreal,” said Ronald Gehr, a McGill civil engineering professor.

“The fact that there is turbidity could mean that there are micro-organisms, specifically protozoa, which are quite large.”

The Atwater filtration plant is Quebec’s largest and processes about 90 per cent of the city’s water supply. Built in 1918, it was considered an engineering marvel and the city has invested $15 million over the last four years to upgrade the installations.

The Atwater filtration plant is Quebec’s largest and processes about 90 per cent of Montreal’s water supply.
The Atwater filtration plant is Quebec’s largest and processes about 90 per cent of Montreal’s water supply. Global News

“We don’t think that human error was at fault,” Jacques-Alain Lavallée, a spokesperson for the City of Montreal, said Thursday morning. “This procedure has been done before.”

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“An investigation is underway to understand exactly what happened and the process will be re-evaluated if need be.”

You asked and we answered. Have a look at our Q and A on Montreal’s boil water advisory based on your questions here.

Residents are asked to call 311 for more information.

If you are concerned about symptoms after consuming unboiled water, contact Info-Sante at 811.

Boil-water advisory tips
Bring water to a bubbling boil for at least one minute before consuming.

Non-boiled water can be used for hygiene, bathing or taking showers or for other household purposes, such as washing clothes. Please ensure that young children who are bathed do not swallow water. Dishes can be washed in hot water, but will need to be dried thoroughly.

It is not recommended to drink the water, wash or prepare food like fruit and vegetables, brush teeth or make ice with tap water that has not been boiled for at least one minute. Any food that has been prepared earlier with non-boiled water should be thrown out.

Do you have questions about the boil water advisory? Find out more tips for boiling water correctly during an advisory here.