Ontario town hit by cheese factory fire can't drink water

Residents of St. Albert, Ont., are being advised not to drink water from their wells because of possible groundwater contamination after a fire on Sunday destroyed the local cheese factory.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit for Prescott and Russell issued a notice stating that the water in this area should not be consumed or used. Until further notice, residents in the community are being told to use bottled water or an alternative source of water for drinking, washing food or brushing their teeth.

Boiling water is not advised because it does not ensure the removal of chemical contaminants, the health unit says.

The Canadian Red Cross said they will be assisting with the distribution of water and doing door-to-door assessments for the 600 residents of St. Albert and said water advisory is expected to be in effect for up to five days.

Residents with more questions are asked to contact officials at The Nation Township.

The fire that destroyed much of the St. Albert cheese co-operative was a cause for concern because the plant used chemicals such as ammonia.

The factory was a landmark and major employer for the tiny community of 500 people, about 45 minutes east of Ottawa, since its founding in 1894.

Nine fire departments from communities in the surrounding area worked to control the blaze on Sunday.

There were no reported injuries. The cause of the fire is unknown.

There was some positive news Tuesday as the company announced its staple, cheese curds, will return to supermarket shelves as early as next week.

Former general manager and special advisor to the St. Albert cheese co-operative Réjean Ouimet said other cheesemakers will manufacture the cheese curds based on the original recipe and under "strict supervision" of St. Albert master cheesmakers.

The company's delivery trucks are also running, and will resume deliveries next week, as they were not damaged by the fire, he said.