MONTREAL -- Residents in one area of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal are drinking bottled water as a preventive measure following tests that showed unsafe levels of lead.

Residents of the Douglas’ Levinschi Pavilion, which is being rented by a private mental health lodging and care organization, have been drinking bottled water for at least three weeks, according to a former employee.

Water tests taken in August at the pavilion revealed lead levels at 0.014 parts-per-million, nearly three times the acceptable limit of 0.005.

On Monday, local health officials clarified their information to CTV News, saying another test taken in Sept. 18 showing the water was back to lead safe levels, at 0.002. Still, staff and clients have continued to drink supplied water as a preventive measure.

“A next water quality test will be done in the next few weeks,” said Annie Charbonneau of the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, adding that “we have been monitoring the situation very closely.”

The building had been unoccupied for some time until 18 clients were moved in on Sept. 26.

Lead is a neurotoxin and exposure to the metal from drinking water can result in high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease in adults, and neurological and behavioural problems in children.

“The Levinschi pavilion and other Douglas pavilions are old and, like many residences in the City of Verdun, the concentration of lead in water is an issue,” wrote Helene Bergeron-Gamache, spokesperson for the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, in a statement to CTV News.

“Employees and residents have been supplied with bottled water.”

As of Saturday, there were 18 patients staying with Ressources d’hébergement l’Étape Inc. (RHE), the private facility.

“The Douglas Institute has provided water since our arrival,” wrote RHE owner and director Rachel Pomerleau.

RHE, which has been working with the Douglas for several years, rented the Levinschi Pavilion in August for one year.

The CIUSSS says it’s in talks with Montreal to determine the source of the lead.

ISSUES OF CLEANLINESS

CTV News first became aware of water issues at the Levinschi Pavilion after a video posted to social media went viral. The video, shot by former RHE employee Mina Pingol, shows brownish water coming out of a tap in one of the resident’s dorms.

 


RHE told CTV News the brown liquid was a result of plumbing work done on the pipes in recent days, and that the water would become clear again after flushing it for several minutes.

Pingol, who until recently was employed as a weekend intervention worker, told CTV issues of cleanliness were common at the pavilion.

She alleged the kitchen area was not kept clean and said she saw evidence of cockroach and mice infestations.

“This is an emergency situation,” said Pingol, who first notified CTV of the water quality issue. the company which is renting the pavilion from the Douglas.

“It's a health and safety issue.”

The regional health authority told CTV News it was notified about a mouse sighting. It says an exterminator visited the site on Sunday and "saw no sign of infestation."

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” said Bergeron-Gamache.

“We will take all the necessary measures to ensure a safe and quality environment.”

Pingol says she was fired from her job as an intervention worker on Friday, the day before the video was posted online.

She had raised concerns of cleanliness to management and colleagues, she says, and believes that’s part of the reason she was fired on Friday.

However, in documents provided by Pingol to CTV News, RHE denies that her comments were a factor.

CTV News requested clarification from her employer as to why she was dismissed. RHE did not respond. 

UPDATE: The CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal initially told CTV News the lead levels in the water were currently at 0.014 parts-per-million, but on Monday, clarified that they were at that level in August, and had dropped to 0.002 in a subsequent test on Sept. 18. Officials did say that clients and staff continue to drink bottled water as a precaution.

The health board also said on Monday that an exterminator visited the site on Sunday and "saw no sign" of mouse infestation.