Almost 30 per cent of the facilities that have issued the boil water order during the past five years issued it more than once, meaning they had bacteria in their well more than once.

Curtis-Steele says, in this circumstance, the inspector should ask where the bacteria comes from at those facilities.

Investigations after the Walkerton outbreak suggest the town’s utility operators lacked proper training to identify the Well 5 is located too close to a farm and are vulnerable to surface water contamination from farm runoffs.

Curtis-Steele says inspectors here are also not qualified to identify contamination sources.

She says before 2002, there used to be a well inspector at each regional office. They’re usually engineering technologists, and their job is to measure the well, take a water sample and determine the source of the contamination. But that position disappeared a couple of years later when the original well inspectors got promoted or left the job.

Heather Fairbairn, the department’s media relations advisor, says that role has since evolved into the inspector specialist position today.

However, both of the inspectors interviewed, Chris O’Connell and Tanya Mackenzie said they don’t have the knowledge to determine the source of the bacteria so they would refer the owner to a driller to figure out if the well is constructed properly.

Curtis-Steele explains engineering technologists, like herself, have the proper education and training to enforce the Well Construction Regulations, but not the inspector specialists, who are the ones doing the audits.

“I had to take a number of chemistry courses in order to become a certified engineering technologist,” says Curtis-Steele, “such as, general chemistry, instrumental chemistry and environmental chemistry.”

She says other courses include, food mechanics, hydrology, engineering statistics, physics, drafting, surveying, geology, biology and ecology, water resources engineering, public health and safety, math and calculus, etc.

“The inspectors, they don’t take any math, no engineering courses,” says Curtis-Steele. “They wouldn’t have the engineering principles behind that understanding of well construction.”

The ratio of inspectors and engineers used to be roughly half and half, so some of the engineers can be designated as well inspectors. But the number of inspectors have increase drastically in 1990s. The current ratio has ended up to be six inspectors to one engineers.

That is mainly due to a government change in 1994 and 1995 – all the health inspectors from the Health Department moved to the Environment Department.

Curtis-Steele says when the Environment Department took over all the health inspectors, they filled the quota. So there have been very few engineering technologists getting hired after that because there were no positions available for them.

As a result of the change, there are not enough engineering technologists to be doing well inspection full time.

Mike Horwich, who worked in both departments for decades, says the intent of the move was to prevent duty overlaps of the two departments.

“Both departments had the responsibility for water resources in the province and on-site sewage or wastewater,” he says. “The government of the day decided that instead of two departments dealing with these issues and sometime duplicating service, they would consolidate the services all into one department, and they chose the Department of Environment.”

Horwich started his career as an inspector at the Health Department. He says in order to get his certification back then, he had a undergraduate degree in biology and then specific trainings in public health inspection at Ryerson University or a few other institutes.

“And then you had to write an exam, a national examination, be tested,” says Horwich. “Hopefully, you received your certification if you passed.”

Curtis-Steele says that training is good with public health and food inspection, but the Environment Department doesn’t do food inspection anymore. And that’s why health inspectors have to consult a professional to help with well construction.

The Environment Department now has a total of 70 inspectors and 12 engineers, but Curtis-Steele says, none of them is enforcing the Well Construction Regulations.

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This story is part of the 'Tap water in N.S. restaurants and houses equally monitored?' series.
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