Chilliwack has started emergency chlorination of its water system after E. coli was found in the Greendale area of the city.

The move comes only weeks after Fraser Health Authority advised the City of Chilliwack to start adding chlorine to its drinking water as a preventative health measure.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz and MLA John Les both opposed the proposal to chlorinate the water, which came after health officials found E. coli bacterium three times in samples taken over the past few years.

Gaetz says they're treating the most recent E. coli finding seriously, but maintains the level detected was miniscule.

"The reading was one which was the very lowest you could read for E. coli," she said.

"We've had that happen before, where a test has read one and it's come back the next day when re-tested as being a sampling error."

Dr. Van Buynder, chief medical officer of the Fraser Health Authority, says any level of E. coli, no matter how low is dangerous.

"The health department does not regard any level as a safe level of E. coli. We don't look at the amount and say, 'That's not so bad, or bad,'" he said.

"Water supply should not contain E. coli."

Greendale's water is being re-tested and results are expected tomorrow.

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  • While most strains of E. coli are harmless, the Public Health Agency Of Canada warns that some strains including E. coli O157: H7, can make people sick, and in serious complications can include kidney failure.

  • Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and fever that is generally less than 38.5˚C/101˚F and tend to last for five to seven days.

  • High risk individuals include the very young, elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.

  • Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal, can develop in around 5 to 10 per cent of those who get sick from E. coli O157:H7 overall and about 15 per cent of young children and the elderly. Symptoms of HUS vary. Some people have seizures or strokes and some need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others live with side effects such as permanent kidney damage.

  • Proper hygiene including hand washing and safe food handling and preparation practices are recommended to prevent the illness.

  • While E. coli is generally associated with ground meat, Alberta Health Services warns that the bacteria can also be found in foods including poultry, pork, cheese, sprouts, lettuce, yogurt, and unpasteurized milk and fruit juices and advises Albertans to take precaution.