Mersey River bacteria numbers swell

·3 min read

The third round of tests for fecal bacteria or enterococci levels in the Mersey River by Grade 7 students has brought forth more shocking results.

LighthouseNOW has learned that the levels are the highest since the students began testing the water last year.

Near the Henry Hensey bridge in Liverpool, the levels from the students’ December to January readings increased 611 per cent, from 124 to 758 enterococci to 100 millilitres of water, for example.

Other testing sites included at the end of Waterloo Street, at Tupper Park, at the Canoe and Camera Club location, Pine Grove and off Highway 8 in Milton.

Under Health Canada regulations, it’s not advisable to swim in waters where there is 70 enterococci/100 ml. And at 170 enterococci/100 ml, the water should not touch the skin.

“The kids feel strongly about the need for signs at swimming locations to warn people of the risks,” the students’ teacher, Jill Leuschner, reported in an email to LighthouseNOW.

The students from South Queens Middle School have been part of a Social Studies project that includes the testing of the Mersey River in six different locations. Leuschner recently updated the newspaper on the students’ latest results.

The group first tested the water October 30, then December 10 and presented their results at a Region of Queens council meeting on December 22.

“This is amazing. I did not know the river was that bad,” councilor Ralph Gidney commented during that meeting.

The students had found readings of between 230 and 340 enterococci to 100 millilitres of water on October 30, at over six different test areas on the river. Numbers were down slightly in the December readings, but the students tested the river again January 17 and the number of enterococci found at all six locations took a huge jump.

Leuschner said they would continue testing monthly and has vowed to carry on pushing for action.

MLA for Queens-Shelburne, Kim Masland, had watched the students’ presentation.

“I was deeply inspired by this group of students and their presentation they made,” she said. “It is just incredible that this group was using their own voices to help create a better community and province.”

She added that they brought awareness to a concern she didn’t even know existed, despite living in Queens County all her life.

Grade 7 student Jordan Brennan used to frequent the river, but won’t anymore.

“I never knew the water was so full of fecal bacteria,” he said. “I thought the results were pretty surprising. I was not expecting this.”

He said he hopes that the group’s project is a call to action and work will begin soon on cleaning up the river.

As part of the project, students sent letters to Masland, Minister of the Environment Gordon Wilson and MP Bernadette Jordan, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Masland said that she reached out to the class commending them on their work and also sent a letter to the environment minister.

“I explained to him about the public presentation from the students and suggested strongly he should come and meet with this strong group of leaders in our province,” she said. “I also asked the minister to have his department to do testing, along with what these students were doing, and come up with a remediation plan.”

She added that it is unfortunate that the legislature has not been sitting, otherwise she would have brought this issue up to the minister there.

Region of Queens Mayor Darlene Norman also sent a letter to Wilson requesting that his staff carry out independent water quality testing of the Mersey River and Liverpool Harbour, and publicly report the results of the impacted communities.

Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin