Former science panel member on North Kent polluted water demands action

Would you drink this? Arsenic, lead and mercury among substances found in North Kent well water

September 7, 2023

It’s been years since wind turbine construction in North Kent, Ontario began, and several families noticed a change in their well water. The changes went from discolouration to unpleasant, particle-filled turbid water. The particles jammed people’s water filtration devices. The impact on water well continued, even after construction finished, with water remaining polluted by particles as the turbines operated.

The local Medical Officer of Health (who had testified for wind power developers in a number of appeals) said there was no problem with the water, it wasn’t a health hazard.

The Ministry of Environment in Ontario was silent on the issue.

MPP Monte McNaughton, then in opposition, went to the environment minister with a bottle of brown, cloudy water, asking for action.

New and used water filters in North Kent: the problem is obvious

McNaughton is now a minister in the government led by Premier Doug Ford.

Concerns continued as reportedly as many as 80 families had affected water supply, and people were worried about toxicity of the contamination. In 2019, the province agreed to strike a science panel to look into the problem, and conduct testing. The result was that elements such as cadmium, boron, arsenic and lead, among others, were found in the water; the panel recommended more testing and more work, specifically to determine “bioavailability”, or whether the elements found in the water could harm health.

The Ontario Groundwater Association confirmed the connection between wind turbine construction and operation, and damage to the aquifer.

With the government still not taking action, citizens launched a Go Fund Me campaign to pay for their own water tests, and the Chatham-Kent municipal council wrote a formal letter to the government, asking for action.

Still, no action.

Scientist pleads for action on water

Keith Benn, a geologist and former university professor who was a member of the original science panel, recently wrote a letter to the editor of the Chatham Voice, expressing frustration and concern. An excerpt follows:

“An expert panel, of which I was a member, was tasked with providing advice and expertise to the investigation and also with submission of a report on the findings. In the report submitted in December 2021, the expert panel noted that although sampling and the full suite of analytical work was completed for water from 57 wells, the investigation failed to collect sediment from any of the wells. As a result of that failure, the expert panel recommended further work to sample sediment using properly adapted techniques, and to analyze those samples for potentially toxic substances.

“In the absence of any signal from the Ontario Government that studies of the sediments would proceed, several local residents decided to get the work done on their own wells. Sampling and analytical work were paid partly by well owners and partly with generous donations through a GoFundMe campaign. The results received between November 2022 and April 2023 revealed the presence of significant concentrations of heavy metals in the sediment from each of the nine wells sampled. The metals in question included, in varying amounts, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, nickel and mercury.

“As recommended by the expert panel, it remains to study the bioavailability of the metals in the sediments to determine whether those metals pose a health risk to residents who source their domestic water from private wells in the area.

“On May 29, having been informed of the results obtained by the privately funded work, Chatham-Kent municipal council unanimously passed a resolution put forward by Coun. Jubenville of Ward 4 calling for the municipality to “strongly encourage” the Ministry of Health to proceed with the investigation of the potential health hazard associated with the sediment in well water within the footprints of industrial wind complexes in northern Chatham-Kent. Shortly thereafter, a letter was addressed the Minister of Health notifying her of that resolution.

“Bravo to the Municipal council for taking that action. The ball is now in the ministry’s court.

“Sadly, there has been no signal from the Ministry of Health that the unfinished work of the all-hazard investigation would proceed as requested by the municipality. The deafening silence thus far from the Ministry and also from the local MPP is terribly disappointing.”

In our view, if this happened to dozens of homes in Toronto, action would have been taken—years ago.

Water is life. The Ford government needs to fix this, immediately.

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