As many as 1.3 million people do not have safe, clean drinking water after the city of Montreal issued a boil-water advisory.

The water throughout most of the island -- the entire borough of Saint-Laurent, from LaSalle to Pointe-aux-Trembles and everywhere in between -- is not safe to drink.

The entire city of Montreal is under the advisory with the exception of Pierrefonds–Roxboro, l’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève, Montréal-Nord, Ahuntsic-Cartierville and the Rivière-des-Prairies neighbourhood.

Most of the area affected is south of the Metropolitan. Water throughout the boroughs of Anjou, Villeray and Saint-Leonard, while north of the Metropolitan, is also unsafe, as is water in the towns of Mount Royal, Hampstead, Westmount, Cote Saint-Luc, Montreal East, Montreal West and the off-island town of Charlemagne. The Saint-Pierre disctrict of Lachine is also affected.

The city is advising everyone affected to boil their water for 60 seconds before consuming, using it for brushing teeth, or for cooking or washing food.

Officials say any water that has been stored since last night, either in pitchers, used in ice cubes, or something similar should be thrown out.

Non-boiled water can be safely used for washing clothes or for bathing.

"This is strictly a preventative measure at this point. We didn't notice any bacterial contamination the water -- strictly turbidity, just sediment," said Gordon Routley Division Chief of the Montreal fire department.

The city is downplaying the danger of the water, saying it does not believe that anyone will fall ill.

"We think it's unlikely at this point but we can't rule out the possibility," said Routley.

Anyone who believes they have health symptoms they believe are related to drinking untreated water should contact Info-Santé by calling 8-1-1.

The widespread notice comes after a failed test result at the Atwater filtration plant.

The Atwater filtration plant, the largest in the province and the second-largest in the country, has been undergoing renovations for the past four years, and city officials say that as part of that work the level of water in the reservoir had to be dipped in the main basin. Wednesday morning, however, it dipped to an unusually low level, allowing sediment at the bottom to be mixed into the water.

Some residents, particularly in Verdun and southern parts of the city, noticed brown water coming out of their taps.

The city says the boil-water advisory will last until at least midday Thursday.

 

Montrealers react

Hospitals, schools and other institutions were quick to change their water usage after getting the unprecedented advisory.

The MUHC had planned for this instance and put its water shortage code into effect, turning off water fountains and ice machines.

The cafeterias switched to using bottled water for everything necessary, and staff handed out bottles of water to patients.

Isabelle Tremblay of the MUHC said no hospital had ever needed to use these protocols before, but expected it would first be used during a heat wave or if a water main broke.

At the English Montreal School Board, all schools were instructed not to drink any water from fountains, and several schools were quick to put up signs and tell students in each classroom of the warning.

Staff members at several schools bought bottles of water to give to anyone who was thirsty.

“Basically we were told to make sure that all the water fountains were covered and blocked off, so we did that,” said Sonia Marotta, vice-principal of Pierre de Coubertin elementary in Saint-Leonard.

Students there were given water bottles, which the school always has available.

“We always take that into consideration, because we never know what can happen. We always make sure we have extra water on hand,” she said.

Meanwhile members of the public rushed to stores to buy bottles of water, with reports of a run on bottled water at several supermarkets.

Some local businesses have taken precautionary measures. All Starbucks in the affected areas have stopped selling coffee and tea completely, and are only selling pre-bottled beverages and pastries. They are also using plastic gloves instead of metal utensils to serve customs in case they came in contact with water.

Safe areas

Other areas in and around Montreal get their drinking water from different sources that are not connected to the Atwater filtration plant, and so are not affected by this event.

Specifically water in the West Island is treated in Pointe Claire, so water in that city, Dorval, and everywhere west is safe to drink.

The cities of Laval and Longueuil have their own water treatment areas, and so residents of those areas do not have to boil their water.