Shady Acres residents bringing awareness on dangerous water

Residents of Shady Acres have been dealing with water issues since 2019, and a meeting held on March 7th hopes to spark change and awareness.

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A trailer home at night with the northern lights in the sky.
Shady Acres (Cassandra Ross)

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Residents of Shady Acres have been dealing with water issues since 2019, and a meeting held on March 7th hopes to spark change and awareness of the dangerous situation.

The meeting on Tuesday comes after residents have been awaiting a solution to the high levels of manganese and e.coli detected in the water at Shady Acres. Residents of the trailer park, Cassandra Ross and Nicole Sorin, hosted the event at the Charlie Lake Community Hall. and have been digging into and researching the issue for some time now.

The group discussed a number of options going forward, including contacting the Office of the Ombudsperson and bringing a legal case forward with an environmental lawyer against Northern Health. 

“Northern Health’s job is to supply safe and healthy water for its system. Sterling Property’s job is to ensure they honour our contract. And the whole point of this meeting, and the whole point of this scenario, is both of them just need to do the jobs,” Ross said. 

Ross invited the group to take some time to consider their options and to reach out to her. 

Ross hopes this meeting will allow the group to move forward and force Sterling and Northern Health to “do their jobs” and make good on their contracts. 

“We’ve given the year. I mean, the problem has been going on since 2019, but we’ve been doing this particular investigating and digging and dealing with people for 12 months now, since April of last year, and nothing has been fixed. So if that’s going to help and making them have fines and cost money, then let’s do that,” Ross said. 

After working through these issues with no results for so long, Ross’ message to the health minister was simple. 

“Take us seriously.”

According to Ross, Health Canada changed the guidelines for water levels in May 2019. The following month, Northern Health issued a letter to Sterling Property Management, the management team that runs Shady Acres, outlining what it would do to help with the changes and advised Sterling to get the park’s water tested. 

On February 25th, 2020, Northern Health issued a letter to Sterling telling them that the levels of manganese in the water at Shady Acres were too high. This letter also explained who was at risk and what steps needed to be taken to replace the system. 

Health Canada states that the acceptable level of manganese in water is 0.02 milligrams per litre, while the maximum allowable level is 0.12 milligrams per litre. 

Ross stated that Northern Health took no further actions until April 29th, 2022, when they issued a letter stating that e.coli had been found in the water and a boil water advisory was put in place for Shady Acres. 

An advisory for the manganese levels was also redistributed at the same time. An advisory Ross said included a warning that boiling water increases the levels of manganese in the water as it intensifies the effects. 

“So at the same time, we’ve got two notices that said, boil your water but don’t boil your water,” Ross said. 

“That’s when this all started.” 

Throughout May 2022, a do not consume order was issued for the park, and Northern Health completed an inspection of the property. As a result of the assessment, Sterling was ordered to have a building permit submitted to replace the system by August 1st. 

On May 13th, Northern Health issued another advisory concerning the levels of manganese in the water, and a test on May 31st showed no change. 

A test on the levels of manganese on May 26th showed the levels at Shady Acres were 2.0 milligrams per litre. 

Sterling did not file for a construction permit until August 10th. According to Ross, there were no consequences for that. 

The new system was sampled on September 27th, and samples on October 11th showed there were still water issues. 

Samples from October 24th showed that manganese levels were at 1.2 milligrams per litre and had e.coli. 

The system was evaluated and determined to have been installed incorrectly on November 15th. A do not consume order was issued from Northern Health to Sterling on November 25th due to e.coli, which Sterling did not issue to tenants of Shady Acres until November 28th. 

On January 23rd, 2023, the system was fixed, and levels of manganese were recorded at 1.8 milligrams per litre on January 13th. 

On February 21st, 2023, Northern Health stated the system was not working, and Sterling was still working on the problem. 

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), manganese is an essential trace element for the human body. Overexposure to the element through either inhalation or ingestion can lead to many issues in the nervous system, liver, lungs, bones, and reproductive systems. 

Hair loss and thinning hair are common problems reported by multiple Shady Acres residents, including Sorin and Miranda Leonard. 

In an interview with, Leonard recounted how her hair loss and many other symptoms, such as lightheadedness and fatigue, fell in line with manganese toxicity and how it eventually drove her to move out of the park. 

To Leonard, the worst part was the damage done to her, both physically and emotionally. 

“I fully believe that the water made me lose almost half of my hair. Damaging my self-esteem and making me not really want to even leave the house,” Leonard said. 

The CDC also stated that high levels of manganese could discolour water, as can be seen in the photo of Sorin’s water filter. 

Sorin’s water filter at Shady Acres (Nicole Sorin)

Ross further outlined that she had written to Dr. Jong Kim of Northern Health, the Minister of Health Adrian Dix, B.C. Premier David Eby and Davies. In the case of Dix and Dr. Jong Kim, multiple times. 

Dr. Jong Kim responded with a letter outlining Northern Health’s responsibilities and a document on drinking water quality. Dix’s office wrote a letter in return and then sent the same letter to Davies’ office when Davies pressed the issue on their behalf. 

Ross said she received an automated email acknowledging that Eby’s office had received her inquiry, but no other response beyond that was issued. 

Multiple residents of Shady Acres attended the meeting alongside Natasha Scott, a Peace River North MLA Dan Davies representative. 

Ross stated that letters of invitation to the meeting were also sent to the Peace River Regional District (PRRD), Sterling Property Management, and Northern Health. 

Area C director Brad Sperling had a previous engagement the night of the meeting, but according to Ross, the group planned to speak with him the next day on March 8th. 

Ross also mentioned she had spoken with Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen about the matter and had conducted a radio interview with CBC. 

Neither Sterling nor Northern Health sent representatives to the meeting.

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