October 26, 2005

Tainted water forces airlift from Canadian village

By Scott Reycraft

TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario will airlift about 1,000
residents out of a remote northern community because of
contaminated water on the native Indian reserve, a spokeswoman
for the provincial government said on Wednesday.

In declaring a medical emergency, the central Canadian
province said it would evacuate about half of the 2,000
residents of the Cree village of Kashechewan on the shores of
James Bay, about 1,000 km (625 miles) north of Toronto. It is
accessible only by air.

The community's water has been contaminated by E. coli
bacteria and residents are suffering from nausea, diarrhea,
parasites, and blistered skin. Some conditions are due to high
levels of chlorine used to treat the water.

"Right now we're looking at evacuating those that need
medical attention and taking them to where they can get better
care," said Anne-Marie Flanigan, a spokeswoman for the Ontario
minister responsible for aboriginal affairs.

Residents will be flown about 450 km (280 miles) south to
towns such as Timmins and Cochrane to receive treatment.

The community has been holding protests and asking for help
from the federal and provincial governments to deal with the
contaminated water problem. A squabble between government
officials over who had jurisdiction and responsibility for the
issue delayed action.

David Solomon, who works at Kashechewan's grocery store,
said the situation had become dire and people wanted to see
drastic action.

"From what I've heard, most people just want out," he said
in a telephone interview.

The community has been under a boil-water order on and off
for the last five years. A report by Ontario's Clean Water
Agency in 2003 showed there were serious problems with the
water treatment system.

Kashechewan is located in a low-lying area that is prone to
flooding. Last year, the federal government upgraded the
reserve's water treatment plant, but did not move the intake
pipe. The reserve's sewage lagoon is upstream from the water
system's intake pipe.

Health Canada said tests on the water in mid-October showed
elevated levels of coliform and E. coli. While samples over the
last week have been contaminant-free, the agency said the
boil-water order would remain in place for the remaining

After residents complained last week about the shortage of
clean water, the Canadian government doubled the amount of
bottled water it sends daily to about 27,000 liters (7,100 U.S.

"This has become a national issue because we have more than
100 First Nations communities in the same situation," said Don
Kelly, a spokesman for the Assembly of First Nations, which
represents native groups across Canada.

Reserves like Kashechewan are among the poorest communities
in Canada, with high unemployment, substandard housing and
often severe health problems.

With a shortage of drinking water the community's school is
closed and people must bathe with water that could cause open
sores or skin irritations.