McMaster student residence closed as work crews ensure safe water supply

Jan 31, 2024 | Campus News, Canadian News, News

Poor water quality at a McMaster University residence is forcing students to move out of the building.

Students protested the water quality at the 10 Bay St. S. building in Hamilton last Sunday. Housing and social services advocacy group ACORN said while the poor water quality was inconvenient for domestic students, international students are most affected.

McMaster University announced it planned to relocate its graduate students to local hotels while the building’s water systems are repaired.

Graduate student Elliot Goodell Ugalde, who is among the students being relocated, said this is a serious issue.

“The water is unsafe. We’ve even had one student recently hospitalized,” he said.

Ugalde said the university’s presence in the lives of the grad students at the residence can be difficult.

“It’s hard because McMaster is both our employer, our educator, and our landlord,” he said.

However, Ugalde is not alone in his concerns.

ACORN representative Peter Groves said this is extra difficult for international students.

“It’s hard for them because they don’t know their rights quite the same as a lot of Canadians might,” he said.

Stanley Ho, an international graduate student from Hong Kong, said he was excited to start his academic journey in a new country.

“I was so surprised that I could take this opportunity to live in this country immediately and start my studies as soon as possible,” Ho said.

However, he said his excitement changed when he saw the building in person for the first time.

“The first impression for me was, ‘Oh, this is a construction site,'” he said.

Ho said disruptions from construction were to be expected but were not as troubling as the state of the water supply.

A statement released by McMaster University on Jan. 28 said the temporary relocation of students will ensure that development teams can assess all the water pipes in the building.

“Relocating tenants for this period is a necessary, critical step, that will make it possible for the university and its development partner to resolve this complex issue,” the statement said.

“We are taking this extraordinary and more exhaustive approach because we want to remedy the water supply and ensure the well-being of our students,” it said. “The upcoming chlorination is comprehensive and will address the complete system, down to the smallest branches of piping and individual fixtures and hardware.”

The water, which Ugalde said contains bacteria, is considered a sign of contamination, according to a report on drinking water by Public Health Ontario.

“The health effects of drinking water that contains indicator bacteria can range from no physical impact to severe illness like gastrointestinal illness (GI), with symptoms starting within a few hours, days or weeks after consuming the water,” the report said.

“GI symptoms can include some or all of the following: nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, muscle aches, headache and low-grade fever. In rare cases, drinking contaminated water may result in significant illness or death,” the report said.

“We have three Peloton bike machines but no safe drinking water,” Ugalde said.

Both Ho and Ugalde said they would continue supporting the tenants living in the residence building.

The City of Hamilton said in a statement that in instances like this, their priority is to investigate complaints of potential health hazards and take immediate action to prevent or decrease the risk to the health of residents.

“We have investigated and are in routine contact with McMaster University administration since being notified of a water quality concern at 10 Bay Street South on Nov. 28, 2023,” the city said.

The city stated it would ensure the university would supply residents with potable water.