HALIFAX: Residents on well water can now bring water samples to Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) locations for chemical and bacterial testing, thanks to an investment in new equipment.

Previous equipment lacked the capacity to process water samples for the whole province. As a result, most Nova Scotians outside of Halifax had limited access to testing, or didn’t test their drinking water at all.

“We’re pleased to be able to offer improved access to this important service,” pathology and laboratory medicine senior director Shauna Thompson said in a release. “It’s impossible to tell whether well water is safe to drink by looking at it, smelling it or tasting it. It has to be tested.”

Randy Veinotte, one of the project’s leads, told The Reporter on February 14 their old equipment would break down quite a bit, which meant it would affect turnaround times, but it also meant sometimes they would have to refer testing out to somewhere else.

“Of course financially, it cost us more to get it tested somewhere else than we could do internally,” he said. “So there was no way we could open it up to the volume that we’d be getting from the province, until we actually got a new piece of equipment.”

Veinotte noted that once the NSHA formed, they found capital funds to actually purchase a new piece of equipment which has enabled them to offer this campaign to everyone across the province. The $200,000 Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICPMS) is used for testing and identifying the chemistry compounds of the water.

With the efficiencies of the new equipment, the laboratory is able to test a larger number of samples, which allows NSHA to offer this service to all Nova Scotians. Previously, residents outside of Halifax only had the bacteria testing available to them, now they will have the ability to get chemical and bacteria testing completed at the same time.

“That’s always been an issue we’d hear from people was ease of access, in order to get that testing done,” he said. “That’s what this campaign is all about. First of all, it’s about education, on when they should be testing and how often, but it’s also giving them the availability to be able to pick up a bottle to drop it off, in an area that’s relatively close to their home community.”

Bacterial testing will continue to be conducted at laboratories in local hospitals. Chemical testing will be sent to the laboratory at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax.

Nova Scotia Environment recommends that Nova Scotians on well water have it tested for bacteria every six months, and every two years for chemical parameters.

Rachel Boomer, a spokeswomen with the environment department, advised that in Guysborough County arsenic, uranium, fluoride, and manganese are often found, while in Antigonish, Inverness, and Richmond counties manganese – with some potential for arsenic and uranium – are present.

To ensure the sustainability of high-quality water testing services, pricing was recently reviewed to determine standardized, provincial prices. These prices had not been reviewed previously and it was necessary to adjust pricing for bacterial testing.

“From what we’ve heard from people’s experience was it was quite expensive, the private companies have a certain minimum fee, no matter what you got tested, and that’s what we didn’t want to do,” Veinotte said about people’s previous options on water testing. “That was the most important thing for us, whether you’re in Cape Breton, Spring Hill, or Yarmouth, you’re part of the Nova Scotia Health Authority – everybody should be paying the same price.”

He said the campaign is all about giving residents ease of access to carry out these testing as they want every person in the province to have equal opportunities to access bacteria and chemical testing.

“It’s one of the things we take for granted, we go over to the tap, turn the water on and assume that it’s going to be fine,” Veinotte said. “If you’ve never tested it you don’t know; it’s an important part of our health so it is something people should be doing.”