Researchers studying higher rates of gastrointestinal illness in Inuit communities have a message for all Canadians: wash your water bottles and storage containers.
“People don’t really think about it,” said Sherilee Harper, co-author of the study recently published in the journal “Environmental Science and Pollution Research.”
“You know, it’s just water going into the container so you don’t think to clean it regularly. I have to tell you, after we did the study I certainly clean my water bottle more often than I did before.”
The University of Guelph research team took samples from drinking water stored in 104 containers at 76 homes in the tiny Inuit community of Rigolet in Labrador. It has a population of around 300.
The water had typically come from one of several treated dispensing units installed by the province in areas with high-risk water systems. Those units include reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light for purification.
But more than one-quarter of the home samples first taken in Rigolet in 2014 tested positive for bacteria suggesting fecal contamination, said lead researcher Carlee Wright.
Those rates of contamination jumped 13 times higher when smaller containers or “dippers” were used to scoop out water for drinking.
“Water that would have been initially clean when they collected it from the station can get recontaminated if the containers themselves are not clean,” Wright said.
“We tested stored water from almost all the households in Rigolet and found that about a quarter of them had indicator bacteria in them which indicates possible fecal contamination.”
Such contagions may help explain higher rates of reported cases of vomiting, diarrhea and other illnesses linked to longer term health effects such as bowel disease, Wright said.
“We did find rates of enteric illness or acute gastrointestinal illness to be over 2.4 cases per person per year,” she said of Rigolet.
That’s two to six times the rate for similar illnesses in other parts of Canada and countries such as the U.S., Chile, Argentina, Cuba, China, Poland and Italy, said Harper.
Rigolet resident Charlie Flowers said he and his family had always blamed such bouts on a stomach bug “or some food not…