The District of Sparwood has shut down Well #3 after testing by Teck Resources showed selenium levels above the provincial water guideline.

Sparwood well offline for a month

It could be up to a month before selenium in a public well returns to a safe level.

It could be up to a month before Sparwood residents have access to a public well containing high levels of selenium.

The District of Sparwood has shut down Well #3 after testing by Teck Resources showed selenium levels above the provincial water guideline.

According to Interior Health, selenium is an essential nutrient that is available in low levels in a variety of foods such as Brazil nuts, eggs, fish, meat and spinach.

But too much selenium can be harmful to human health.

“People who have consumed excessive selenium over long periods might experience a rare condition that is called selenosis,” said Interior Health’s manager of environmental management, Christina Yamada.

“Selenosis is characterized by hair loss, changes in nails and skin, garlic odour of the breath, tooth decay and, in severe cases, disturbances of the nervous system in the form of muscle weakness and reduced brain function.”

Interior Health continues to work with the District of Sparwood to ensure its drinking water supply meets the recommended 0.01 mg/L.

Mayor Cal McDougall said the well was taken offline “a couple of times a year” due to elevated selenium levels.

“It seems to happen when the water flow is a little bit lower this time of year and we just shut it down and turn it back on in a month or so,” he said.

“Teck knows there’s a problem and hopefully they’re dealing with it. It seems like they are.”

Sparwood has three public wells and a population of 3490 people.

McDougall said there was sufficient water in the remaining two wells to supply the community.

“We can certainly manage without it, it’s not a real big deal,” he said.

“But we are in the process of drilling another well, and Teck is assisting us with that, into a different aquifer, so that we don’t have this problem.”

The Canadian mining giant is funding the replacement well, which is expected to be completed later this year.

It has also provided bottled drinking water to users of four private wells in the Elk Valley, which recorded selenium levels above the provincial water guideline.

Last week, the Elk River Alliance called on Teck to make its well sampling program more transparent.

McDougall said he was confident the company was doing enough to resolve the region’s water quality issues.

“But it’s not something that you find a fix and it just goes away the next day,” he said.

“It’s going to take a long time to diminish and reduce the selenium in the Valley.”

Private well owners with questions or concerns related to human health are encouraged to visit Interiorhealth.ca/YourEnvironment/DrinkingWater or contact the Cranbrook Health Unit on 250-420-2220.

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