Drinking water unsafe in PEI prison


Tests have found concerning levels of arsenic and uranium in groundwater at the Prince Edward Island Provincial Correctional Facility on Sleepy Hollow Road.

For several weeks, prisoners and staff have been using bottled water for drinking and preparing food.

Arsenic and uranium occur naturally in groundwater, but levels found in the prison were slightly above national health guidelines for consumption.

There have been no reports of illness from inmates or staff.

George Somers, manager of drinking water, land and systems protection at the PEI Ministry of Communities, Lands and Development, says short-term water use does not pose a major health risk.

“The guidelines are based on lifetime water use, so the current levels are only slightly above the guidelines, and again the guidelines are designed to protect water use over a lifetime,” Somers said.

While uranium and arsenic are naturally occurring elements, high levels of arsenic have been linked to cancer. High uranium levels can lead to kidney damage.

“Probably there 50 or 100 years ago.”

Somers said the elements were likely absorbed into the water from the bedrock surrounding the well.

The province has just started using new equipment to test for arsenic and uranium, so Somers says the high levels could have been a problem for decades.

“If you have elevated levels of arsenic or uranium in your water now, it is very likely that they were present 50 or 100 years ago. There is no reason to believe that the values ​​have changed over time,” he said.

“It's nothing to worry about, but on the other hand, if you know you have a problem, it makes sense to deal with it.”

Somers said this is a good reminder for people with private wells to test their water regularly.

Officials will make a decision in the next few weeks on a long-term solution to the prison's water situation.