Toronto councillors ask for review over toxic water crisis

Image copyright Urban Matters Image caption Centre city councillor Mike Layton also represents wards 29, 28 and 28A

Toronto’s Centre city councillor Mike Layton has asked the city council to review the office of the chief medical officer of health.

Toronto is under pressure following an investigation by the court-appointed monitor over fatal contaminated water.

Earlier, councillor Mary Fragedakis accused public health officials of failing in their “duty of care”.

The city is also under scrutiny because of its cooling towers.

‘Fried schmear’

In a letter published by the Toronto Star, Mr Layton said he wants to review “the workings of the emergency operations centre” of the office of the chief medical officer.

He also called for an “immediate review of the city’s response to the water crisis” and raised questions about how data is collected and used.

“Some of the communications from the city lead me to believe that the highest ranking officials in public health do not see their role as an advocate for Ontarians,” he said.

He pointed to comments made by the director of public health Dr Barbara Thauberger about the contaminated water.

In a Nov 18 email the following day, Dr Thauberger said: “The only behaviour I’m measuring is fried schmear.”

However, Dr Thauberger denied that had played any part in influencing how the city dealt with the water crisis.

“I didn’t say what it was like to make that comment. I think I do understand better how people react in certain situations,” she told the Toronto Star.

The city’s Public Health Services department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

‘Duty of care’

In January, Environment and Climate Change Commissioner Glen Murray ordered a public inquiry into how public health officials handled the crisis.

His order came a month after a judicial monitor found that a lack of communication contributed to contamination that led to around 1,800 people becoming ill and three losing their lives.

A second judicial monitor report, written this week, said public health authorities had failed to address the issues of how to communicate with residents, businesses and governments.

“You could be forgiven for being sceptical of the public health department’s medical officer of health when the subject is the recently launched public inquiry into the tragic Flint, Michigan, water crisis,” Mary Fragedakis, the vice-chair of the public health committee, said.

Related reading: BBC News website poll

BBC News website readers have been reflecting on what changes to the city’s handling of the crisis might be required.

D – d, a: Perhaps a little more info and resources offered to businesses on how to prepare? G – y, a: Maybe a better overall response by the City? Ed – s, a: Political and revenue pressure combined with poor government oversight – maybe a little more funding may help? Max – s, a: Better communication of information to anyone involved (emergency responders, elected officials, media, affected families etc) T – d, a: Closing down the water facility on a daily basis, and extending gas service to those affected – seems less of a temporary fix and more of a fix – maybe less emergency response time, less media stress?

Image copyright Toronto Public Health Image caption The city of Toronto, Canada, is under scrutiny for its cooling towers

While the investigation into public health services has moved slowly so far, there is speculation the public inquiry may hear from Dr Thauberger.

Meanwhile, police are also investigating whether some councilors could have received funds from the company in the midst of the water crisis.

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