COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Some Brandon residents say that bottled water is easier on them than tap water.
A retired Brandon doctor says his wife’s severe cramps and nausea that had plagued her for months stopped after she switched from tap water to bottled water.
Dr. Stuart Hampton said it was a Brandon Sun column written by Diane Nelson that piqued his curiosity earlier this month.
"I read this and it was just so exactly what Mickey was having," he said. "I thought, ‘we really, really must try this.’"
Nelson’s column, "Drink Wine — It Might Be Better For You Than Tap Water," appeared in the Sun on March 8. She wrote that she had stopped drinking Brandon tap water eight years ago.
"This tale of woe actually began in 2002, when I started having terrible stomach aches. I went to my doctor, who could find nothing wrong," Nelson wrote. After several tests, she was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome.
Despite the diagnosis, Nelson said the aching and cramping continued "pretty much unabated."
For a holiday in 2005, Nelson and her husband took bottled water as the water at their destination wasn’t potable, and over a weekend the cramps "disappeared almost completely."
"By Tuesday, they were gone, and by Wednesday, I was feeling better than I had in many years," Nelson wrote.
Once she was back home, and drank a glass of tap water, the aches returned 20 minutes later. She came to the conclusion that the tap water might be the source of her problems.
"I haven’t drunk local tap water since that day. I made the switch to bottled water and my stomach problems went away — completely," Nelson wrote.
The story sounded familiar to Mickey Hampton, who says she was woken up daily at the crack of dawn due to terrible cramps.
"Stuart, being a retired physician, insists that we drink tons of water during the night," Mickey said. "So I do as I’m told, drank tons of water and … by 6 o’clock, the cramps were unbelievable."
This went on daily for about five months.
After reading Nelson’s article, Mickey decided to switch to bottled water, and for the past week has had no stomach problems.
"It was absolutely miraculous," she said.
The Hamptons said they wanted to share their story, in case it might help others in the same situation. They decided to write a letter to the Brandon Sun, which is also published on today’s editorial page.
"If people don’t know about it, if people are having these kind of symptoms and they don’t know that it could possibly be tap water or at least not drinking tap water as a remedy , then it’s … something people should know about," Stuart said.
Patrick Pulak, Brandon’s director of water resources, said the city has not received complaints from other residents suffering from stomach cramps. Common complaints are from people who have found a bit of silt in their water or tasted chlorine.
"Our drinking water is treated to the same standard that every Canadian town or city needs to treat to," he said. "These are Canadian drinking water standards, we don’t utilize any chemicals or processes that … would be considered abnormal by any means."
As the Sun reported last month, Brandon’s water fails to meet the acceptable amount of trihalomethanes (THMs) — a number the city has struggled with since a benchmark was introduced in 2008.
The city’s water met all other test requirements by the province’s Office of Drinking Water audit, including E. coli and residual chlorine.
THMs are relatively common in cities where the water supply comes from surface water, such as the Assiniboine River. Chlorine, which is used as one step to disinfect the water, reacts to organic matter — such as decaying plants and algae — in the water source, which forms THMs and ends up in the distribution system.
While steps have been taken over the last several years to reduce the amount of organics coming into the water supply before goes through treatment, THM levels remain higher than the 0.10 milligrams per litre maximum set by the province.
THM levels found in Brandon’s water sources tested four times this year ranged from .047-.161 milligrams per litre. Pulak noted higher THMs are "not uncommon" in Manitoba, and the city is looking at alternative methods of treatment or changes in the process to eliminate THMs.
"One of the things we do already is in the spring time, we dilute our river water with well water, so … that’s one of the things we’re doing now, as just an interim measure," he said. "Now that there’s been infrastructure money announced, perhaps we’ll go forward and ask for money to address some of these upgrades to the water plant."
Two years ago, council approved a measure that bans the sale and distribution of single-use bottled water on city-owed facilities and buildings, except in the case of extraordinary situations that are approved by the city manager.
Pulak cautioned people about bottled water, saying it is an "unregulated industry."
"People are quick to jump on the bandwagon of bottled water," he said. "They can do what they want, as opposed to water treatment plants which are heavily regulated. They have to meet criteria that bottled water does not."
As far as Brandon’s drinking water is concerned, Pulak says "there’s no issue with it … it’s incredibly safe."
» Twitter: @jillianaustin
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 18, 2014