E coli still surfacing near schools

Groundwater contaminated with E. coli bacteria is still leaching to the surface near Eagle Mountain middle school and Heritage Mountain secondary, according to recent samples analyzed by Caro Analytical Services.

The testing is being conducted regularly as part of a pollution abatement order issued by the B.C. Ministry of Environment to Anmore Green Estates. A further ministerial order was then extended to the village of Anmore last August.

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The latest results, from tests conducted Dec. 20 at nine locations below the housing complex’s two operational septic fields as well as a reserve field, showed elevated levels of E. coli as high as 60 colony forming units (CFU) per 100 millilitres in a pool of groundwater in an embankment above the schools. Another five sites showed rates of contamination ranging from one to five CFU per 100 mL while two more had negligible results.

The Ministry of Environment says ideally, groundwater should contain no units of E. coli bacteria, although a single, isolated sample may contain up to 10 CFU/100 mL.

The day the samples were collected was mostly dry, as was the previous day, according to historical data on the website timeanddate.com.

Samples collected the previous month, on Nov. 22, showed elevated levels of E. coli at four of seven sites, ranging from 20 to 60 CFU, while three had negligible readings. That day was the second of two consecutive damp, drizzly days.

Coliform bacteria are considered an “indicator organism” that warns of the potential presence of organisms that can cause disease such as stomach and intestinal illness, including diarrhea and nausea, and can even be fatal for babies, children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems.

Similar tests conducted in 2017 led the ministry to issue its first pollution abatement order to Anmore Green Estates in November of that year, and the affected site was cordoned off just before Christmas 2017 by blue steel fencing as well as warning signs.

Since then, the 51-unit strata has been locked in a tussle with the village over why the problem exists and how it can be rectified. Residents of Anmore Green want to hook up to the regional sewer system that ends in Port Moody, just 60 metres away. Two subsequent engineering reports, one of which was peer-reviewed by an independent engineer, confirm that would be the best solution to ensure no further contamination occurs.

And while the strata has offered to pay all the costs of such a hook-up, including the annual dues that must be paid to the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District, which administers all sewer systems in the region, it filed suit against the village last October to allow it to build new houses on 11 lots upon the septic fields once they’re decommissioned to help cover those expenses.

Anmore Mayor John McEwen said the village is being made a “scapegoat” after the environment ministry issued its order when it determined the village “has taken no significant actions to prevent or mitigate the risk of further pollution.” That order required the village to submit a plan for managing all its liquid waste by last Nov. 30, 2018. But the deadline was then extended to April 30 of this year when Anmore council said the village needed more time. It said the village didn’t have the resources readily available to devise such a plan, which would require a total overhaul of the current system of private septic systems installed and maintained by each homeowner.

2/12: Story updated to clarify nature of order issued to village of Anmore.

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