RCDHU Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jason Morgenstern.

By Alex Lambert

Algonquin College Journalism Intern

Beachburg — Health officials from the Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU) have warned residents of Beachburg and Haley’s Station of high sodium levels in the drinking water.

 Tests taken in January found drinking water in Beachburg contained 24.7 mg of sodium per litre, while Haley’s Station had 65.5 mg of sodium per litre, according to a press release from the RCDHU.

 The township’s municipal water system operator, Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), first notified the RCDHU on January 19 about the sodium levels in the Beachburg and Haley drinking water systems, but there was an inadvertent delay in responding to the reports.

 Municipalities must report sodium levels above 20 mg/L, but the test results were made public 55 days after the initial report, when the RCDHU and Whitewater Region issued a press statement on March 14.

 The sodium levels comply with Ontario’s drinking water standards. Only those adhering to a sodium-restricted diet or with high blood pressure may be affected, according to the region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Jason Morgenstern.

 “It’s important to keep in mind for the vast majority of people, the salt levels that we’re seeing in Beachburg and Haley Station are not a concern,” he said.

 “We regret the delay in informing users, and we are actively looking at our systems to make sure that we can improve communication of this type of information in a timely manner,” he said.

 Whitewater Region Mayor Neil Nicholson said the township is working closely with the RCDHU to share information with the public as to what these levels of sodium mean to locals.

 “The notification of the sodium levels is to ensure that those who might be on a reduced sodium diet have the information to adjust their diet as necessary,” he said. 

 Since sodium is not a toxic element, there’s no maximum acceptable concentration in drinking water. The RCDHU says there is no immediate concern, but it can cause other issues for people who have severe high blood pressure, congestive heart failure or are on a sodium restricted diet.

Drinking water systems are required to test water supplies for sodium once every five years since sodium is a lesser quality parameter, while contamination like e-coli is tested regularly and would result in the immediate issuance of the water advisory.

 The ‘aesthetic objective’ is to keep sodium levels below 200 mg/L, to not affect the water’s taste, according to the RCDHU. Elevated sodium levels often occur due to road salt runoff, but since it’s naturally occurring, there is no solution to reduce sodium levels.