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Boil-water advisories spark Newfoundland to hasten improvement

The Newfoundland government, caught in a whirl of bad publicity over the province's many boil-water orders, will accelerate a plan to buy new disinfection equipment for about 200 communities.

The province, which accounts for about half of the boil orders in Canada, said yesterday that $6.8-million will be committed this year from an $11-million fund that was originally intended to be spent over four years.

"There had been some attention paid in the . . . media about the inordinate number of boil-water orders in Newfoundland and Labrador," Premier Roger Grimes told a news conference.

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"It's a timely story, with a very rare, boil-water order in effect in a large part of the capital-city region."

Mr. Grimes was referring to the three-day-old boil order for the west end of St. John's.

Tens of thousands of residents were told to start boiling their drinking water early Sunday after high levels of coliform bacteria were detected. There have been no reports of illness.

Meanwhile, mayors across Newfoundland remain eager to buy new disinfection equipment.

In Bauline, a town of 380 northwest of St. John's, Mayor Bob Fisher said Mr. Grimes's announcement sounded good, but the reality is the provincial bureaucracy has already gummed up the process.

"We were recommended for approval a couple months ago but we haven't seen any of the money . . . because they're hung up on environmental assessments," Mr. Fisher said.

A boil advisory was issued for Bauline about a year ago, but the town has been asking for money to fix its chlorination system since 1992, Mr. Fisher said.

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In Wabana, a town on Bell Island in Conception Bay, Mayor Gary Gosine said the boil order in St. John's has given the government a jolt.

"People are worried now that a major city like St. John's has come under a boil order," he said.

Only two of Wabana's 12 public wells have disinfection equipment.

St. John's officials say the high level of coliform found in the west end indicates the water was not properly disinfected. The culprit could be unusually high water flows, which reduce the amount of time the water is exposed to bacteria-killing chlorine.

Coliform bacteria can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Mr. Grimes stressed that only 5 per cent of the towns with boil advisories have had problems with contamination. All of the other orders are precautionary measures, he said.

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About 87 communities in Newfoundland have no water-disinfection equipment whatsoever.

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