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City of Thunder Bay denies responsibility for pinhole water leaks

The city has filed a statement of defence against a lawsuit from St. Joseph's Care Group.
PR Cook apartments two
St. Joseph's Care Group says dozens of units in the PR Cook apartments at St. Joseph's Heritage experienced pinhole leaks in copper water pipes (TBNewswatch file)

THUNDER BAY — The City of Thunder Bay denies that it was negligent for adding sodium hydroxide to its water system in 2018.

In a statement of defence against a lawsuit filed by St. Joseph's Care Group, the city says nothing that it did caused or contributed to the development of pinhole water leaks at the PR Cook apartment complex on Carrie Street.

It also maintains that copper water pipes in the building were worn out and past their life expectancy, and that SJCG had taken no steps to replace them.

St. Joseph's Care Group has sued the city for $350,000, alleging that the sodium hydroxide led to dozens of leaks in copper water pipes throughout the building in 2018 and 2019.

SJCG is represented by Cheadles LLP of Thunder Bay, while the city has hired the Toronto law firm Theall Group.

In its claim, SJCG alleged that the city was negligent in failing to adequately test whether sodium hydroxide would cause damage, in failing to inspect and monitor water pipes after the chemical was added, and in failing to take preventative measures to avoid pinhole leaks.

According to the city's statement of defence, the city decided to add sodium hydroxide after considering a number of different alternatives to reduce lead levels in drinking water.

"These alternatives required a review of a number of public policy considerations involving various economic, social and political factors. The City ultimately decided that adding sodium hydroxide was an appropriate course of action  based on those considerations and factors," the statement says.

It goes on to make various submissions, including that:

  • the city reasonably and in good faith exercised its power resulting from policy decisions concerning the management, maintenance and modification of the water system
  • the city denies that its acts or submissions caused or contributed to the presence of pinhole leaks in copper water pipes
  • the city lawfully carried on its responsibilities for the general benefit of the community at large
  • the city at no time made non-natural use of its water supply or infrastructure

The statement of defence furthermore denies that SJCG suffered damages, but that if it did, then "such damages are excessive, indirect, and remote, and the city's acts or omissions were not the proximate cause of such damages."

It also pleads that SJCG failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate any damages.

Any alleged damages, it says, resulted from copper water pipes that were "defective, of poor quality, worn, and/or in need of replacement," adding "The plaintiff knew that its pipes were old and beyond their reasonable life expectancy, yet they took no steps to replace them, nor did they install water leak detection systems."

As such, the statement says, SJCG itself was negligent in failing to maintain its water system infrastructure.

The city's submission also says that it complied, at all times, with its obligations under Ontario's Safe Drinking Water Act.

None of the claims by either party has been proven in court.

The city faces a much larger class action lawsuit – $350 million – on behalf of homeowners across the city who have experienced pinhole water leaks. 

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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