A Windsor, Ont., tenant claims she found something moving in her water. But answers were hard to find
Nancy Basinger says she saw little ripples of movement inside a bucket water from her bathroom, and she almost couldn't believe her eyes.
The downtown Windsor, Ont., tenant says she immediately called over a friend to take a look at what she thought were little tiny fish swimming in her water. But she says she's since had them identified by a researcher as crustaceans — aquatic invertebrates known as amphipods.
"I was totally and completely stunned," she said.
"I couldn't believe there were live critters coming out of my faucet."
Basinger says since spotting these crustaceans in her water on Feb. 12, she and two of her neighbours have stopped drinking or cooking with the water from the building. The city, the landlord and a consultant hired by the landlord say they haven't found an issue. But Basinger says she should have been kept more in the loop.
Basinger told CBC News she has tried to get answers from several organizations, but doesn't feel like she's been properly notified or kept up to date about the issue. She feels her situation highlights the barriers tenants might face when they try to deal with residence-related issues themselves.
"As a tenant, you don't have standing with the health unit, you don't have standing with Enwin water, you don't have standing to go to whomever, it's like this black hole I have fallen into," said Basinger.
"And I'm very frustrated with it."
Basinger lives at a low-rise apartment building in the area of Giles Boulevard West and Dougall Avenue.
Basinger told CBC News that she has reached out to the city's water and hydro company Enwin Utilities, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), the City of Windsor and her landlord, Skyline Living.
But when she found it difficult to get immediate action or answers from any of these organizations, she said she took it upon herself to bring samples of her water to the University of Windsor's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER).
Many unanswered questions
At GLIER, post-doctoral fellow Marco Hernandez identified the crustaceans in the water as amphipods and said they have shrimp-like qualities.
He assumes there might be a crack or leak in one of the building's pipes, but even then, he said the amiphipods shouldn't be alive.
"Animals of that size shouldn't be thriving in fresh water, especially after being treated [by] the utility company here," he said.
"If you have amphipods in there, what else is in your water? How did the amphipods get there? I really don't know."
According to Hernandez, these crustaceans aren't known to cause any health issues for people who ingest them and they do live in fresh water.
Of the 10 samples that Basinger brought to Hernandez from her home and a neighbour's, he said he has found amphipods, other aquatic invertebrates called nematodes or other floating debris, in four.
Nematodes can potentially cause digestive issues in people, including diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Hernandez says his testing found these were only found in Basinger's water.
One of the samples is from Basinger's neighbour, Krystyl Miners', apartment.
"I've had nightmares you know about drinking a glass of water and feeling something crawl on my tongue. Yeah, it's terrible," said Miners, who said she saw the amphipods in Basinger's water.
Miners said that she wanted to see Skyline notify other tenants that there might be an issue with the drinking water.
Landlord, city find water is clear
CBC News took samples from Basinger's tub, her neighbour's tub and a friend of Basinger's who lives down the hall in the same building, to GLIER. But Hernandez didn't find anything in these samples.
Skyline disputes that it was slow to react.
An emailed statement from Skyline Living's vice-president, BJ Santavy, said that the City of Windsor and third-party company Culligan Water, have all taken samples from Basinger's apartment and the building's boiler room — which is where water enters the building.
Jeff Stirling, vice-president of marketing and communications for Skyline Group of Companies, said the company has also taken "several" samples from "areas throughout the building."
Each sample was tested for water purity and they all came back normal, according to Santavy and the Culligan Water report.
"The health and safety of our tenants is always our number one priority," Santavy's statement reads.
"When made aware of any concern, our on-site staff are quick to react ... in this case, the proper processes were followed, but we have yet to find any concerns with the water in this unit, other units in the building, or the main water intake."
Stirling told CBC News that Skyline has been in "regular communication" with the tenant and met with Basinger last week.
At this time, Basinger said she believes Skyline has been "sincere" in their investigation, but that they have been slow to act on the situation.
In an email, the City of Windsor's building department's manager of inspections Rob Vani told CBC News that it started actively investigating a potable water issue at the unit on Feb. 16.
It has since found "no issues" with the water and closed its investigation on March 20.
WECHU told CBC News in an email that it is "unable to provide detail as the WECHU does not disclose complaints submitted to the organization."
Meanwhile, Enwin Utilities' vice-president of water operations, Robert Spagnuolo, told CBC News that they received a complaint and found through an investigation that the "source water coming from Enwin was safe and the issue was on the customer's side of the shut off."
Advocate says tenant can file with the LTB
Douglas Kwan, director of advocacy and tenant services at Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, said that sometimes organizations won't release certain details due to privacy concerns.
But he said that the landlord has an "obligation" to speak with the tenant and make sure that the unit and building are being properly maintained.
Kwan said Basinger can file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) if she feels the landlord isn't "fulfilling their obligations under the law which is to maintain the unit in good condition and also maintain the residential premises in good condition."
"This gap of providing information to the complainant really handcuffs them in order to take any other steps to ensure their safety, it doesn't allow them to follow up on any of the work that may have been ordered by the city," he said.
Even though the samples have turned up clean for others, Basinger said she doesn't feel the water is safe to drink.
She said she won't feel fully comfortable consuming it unless the pipes in the building and underground have been thoroughly checked by a plumber with a camera. She's also planning on filing an application with the LTB against Skyline.
"Until I see [Skyline has] taken a camera, they've examined for cracks in the pipes and they've dug up the pipes and repaired them, I'm not going to feel safe," she said.
Basinger said this situation has highlighted the need for a central contact that tenants can reach out to about problems that could pose a health concern.