More than 80 per cent of the 1,160 boil water advisories issued over the past five years are due to the presence of total coliform. The order is also initiated due to sampling error, ineffective disinfection, cleaning of water lines and plant shutdown, as a precautionary measure. Of the 18 counties in the province, Halifax county got the most boil orders – a total of 181.

Total coliform, which can be found in the soil or the intestines of mammals, including human, is not likely to cause illness. But their presence suggests other more harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, can get into the water supply too.

E. coli, on the other hand, can cause illnesses, including diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Some groups, such as infants, the elderly and those with weak immune systems may suffer more severe effects.

Both bacteria have no taste, smell or colour, and can only be detected through water testing at the lab.

Stewart says, in order to be safe, a lot of registered water supply owners who tend to have bacteria problems in their well water, are willing to install a common sanitizer, called Ultraviolet light, which disinfects the well water 24/7.

“It’s the blue lights that kill bacteria,” says Stewart. “All the water coming out of the tap has to go through that bright light first down in the basement.”

Culligan, a water treatment company in Cookville, Nova Scotia, installs UV light systems for both businesses and homeowners. The UV light system they put in a local Just Us! Coffee store cost $1,100 plus tax. And after the installation, they provide an annual service to change the bulbs, which costs $250.

Stewart says the UV lights keep the water safe, but the owner usually fail the water test, when the treatment unit is broken. For example, when the bulbs are burned out. If that happens, the owner would just replace the bulbs and chlorinate the well, but not really worry about the contamination source in the raw water.

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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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