Cause for concern?

Bonnie Learning
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New study being conducted to determine if there are issues with drinking water in Happy Valley-Goose Bay

Dr. Merline Fonkwe is conducting tests on the water supply in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. She is asking residents for their help by completing a quick on-line survey as part of her research.

The drinking water quality in Happy Valley-Goose Bay has been in question by residents for many years.

This past January, The Labradorian reported on a case of discoloured water at the home of Carol Best.

“When I got up, I saw that the facecloth changed from white to this brown (colour), with this big brown spot where the water had been running,” said Best this past January, who had left her taps running one night to prevent a freeze up of the pipes.

“I was grossed out.”

That article prompted Dr. Merline Fonkwe — a research scientist with the Labrador Institute, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) who specializes in geochemistry applied to mineral deposits and environmental monitoring — to recently undertake a comprehensive, year-long study to determine if there is, indeed, any cause for concern with regards to the quality of drinking water in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Fonkwe and her collaborators — Dr. A. Sarker, Dr. Van Biesen and Dr. R. Schiff — obtained a research grant from the Harris Centre of MUN in March to undertake the study, and just started her evaulation of the local water sources and tap drinking water.

“We will be sampling throughout the year,” said Fonkwe. “With different samples being taken in the fall, winter, spring and summer. This way, we can see if there is variations with the chemical compositions of the water, depending on the season and the operational parameters of the water treatment plant.”

She notes the study will have two main components.

“The first component is to analyze the water — samples of the water from the well source before it goes to the treatment plant; just after it leaves the treatment plant; analysis of the water from the reservoir; and samples again as it flows through the distribution pipes, at different houses and different distances, to see if there are chemical changes to the water as it goes through the water distribution system.

“The second part is a resident survey questionnaire, which will measure residents’ perspectives about the town drinking water, measure attitudes towards it, and get an understanding of the community concerns about their drinking water.”

Fonkwe is hoping residents of the community will take the time to fill out a confidential, 10-minute on-line survey, which can be found at

Fonkwe pointed out the survey will close on Oct. 31, at which point, the chemical analysis of the first batch of water samples is planned.


Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook said the Town was more than happy to lend their support to Fonkwe and her team in their research.

“As a council, we hear a lot of comments about water quality so when an opportunity presented itself to have new research completed, we all saw that as a positive decision for everyone concerned,” he said.

“The results from the survey component of the research will also prove to be an excellent form of public input. We encourage people in all areas of town to participate, and in the meantime we continue to work closely with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to ensure a safe supply of drinking water.”

Fonkwe said in addition to the support from the town and Harris Centre of MUN, she is also grateful for the support of her colleagues at the Labrador Institute of MUN in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, as well as the NunatuKavut Community Council and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

“At the end of the study, we will share the findings with the town and the residents,” she said.

“We hope this research will help in sustainable management strategies of the water treatment system, not only for the prevention of public health hazards, but also for the improvement of the communication leading to amelioration of public perceptions and attitudes towards the quality of our tap water.”


Organizations: Memorial University of Newfoundland, Labrador Institute, The Labradorian Harris Centre NunatuKavut Community Council

Geographic location: Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador

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