The 230,000 residents of Longueuil, a city just outside of Montreal, Canada, have been told that their tap water is unsafe to drink following a diesel fuel spill that leaked into the water supply.
According to media reports, 7,400 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from a city-owned wastewater treatment center in Longueuil, apparently due to equipment failure. Canada’s CBC News reported that the spilled diesel made its way into the sewers from a generator, eventually flowing into the river that supplies drinking water to the city.
The city told its residents on Wednesday morning not to drink their tap water, but then told residents later that afternoon that the water was safe to drink, according to a report from Global News. Then, after reports that residents could still smell diesel in their water, the city on Thursday again put a “do not drink” advisory in place.
The city of Longueuil’s press release says the spill is unlikely to cause “any adverse health effects,” and according to Montérégie Public Health, the smell and taste of the diesel-contaminated water would be the biggest issue. Symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting could happen if people ingest the water, but average healthy adults should be safe, according to a CBC report.
Local officials said showering and washing dishes with the water would be fine, but brushing teeth or making ice cubes would not be recommended. Bottled water distribution centers have been set up across the city, but some did not have enough water to meet demand, according to CTV reporter Maya Johnson. Johnson also reported water shortages at one of the city’s Super C stores, a Quebec discount supermarket chain.
— Maya Johnson (@MJohnsonCTV) January 15, 2015
Not much has yet been reported on why the spill occurred or how long it will take to clean up. Municipal authorities told the National Post that the leak happened when one of the fuel pipes attached to an emergency motor broke at the raw water pumping station at the Centre d’épuration Rive-Sud, the wastewater treatment plant. The break caused about 7,400 gallons of diesel fuel to spill, approximately half of a fuel truck’s load.
“The reservoir completely emptied itself and the diesel infiltrated the city’s sewage system,” Christian Blanchette, the regional coordinator for Quebec’s Environment Emergency agency said. “It was pumped to Île Charron, the water treatment plant for the city of Longueuil.”
— Steve Rukavina, CBC (@Steverukavina) January 15, 2015
But the CBC is reporting that the spill was not reported to Quebec’s environment response team until hours after it occurred at around 4 a.m Wednesday morning, and that the city may face legal action for that delay. Because of that delay, the report said, it was too late to stop the fuel’s migration into the water system.
“Between the wee hours of the morning and 9 a.m., something should have been done but wasn’t,” Blanchette said.