It has been a year since the Ford government has taken power but residents in Chatham-Kent are still left waiting on an important promise to be delivered.
The issue of contaminated well water in Chatham-Kent came up at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
Essex MPP Taras Natyshak questioned Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton on why an impartial health hazard investigation into the contaminated well water in North Kent hasn’t been done yet. McNaughton had made the promise to have the investigation conducted, during his reelection speech for the riding of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex in June 2018.
“Since 2008, residents in north Chatham–Kent have been dealing with well water contaminated by black shale, a known carcinogen. This contamination is attributed to the pile-driving of foundations through the bedrock of the North Kent Wind One turbine project,” said Natyshak in the legislature. “During the campaign, the current premier promised the people affected by this contamination that he would conduct a health hazard investigation immediately. Well, Speaker, ‘immediately’ has come and gone.”
McNaughton did not offer specifics as to when exactly residents can expect an investigation but did thank Natyshak for the “heads-up”.
“We’ve been working very, very hard on this issue,” said McNaughton. “I’ve been working closely with the Minister of Health, and we’re looking forward to having more to say.”
Following question period, a press conference was held where a couple of Chatham-Kent residents pleaded for the government to act promptly on its promise.
Cancer survivor Marilynn St. Pierre spoke first during the conference, expressing concerns about drinking the water that comes out of her tap.
“I am fearful that [my] cancer will return if the health hazard investigation isn’t done soon and we don’t get the answers we need,” she said. “Will I get cancer again if I use my well water?”
Joel Gagnon, head of the Heavy Metals Lab at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research, said there is a possibility that health risks are associated with drinking the dirty well water in North Kent and that it should be further investigated.
“Collectively these people are being exposed to dermal contact hazards, ingestion hazards, inhalation hazards, for a cocktail of what could possibly be potentially toxic metals as well as biogenic – perhaps methylated metals, as well as radon,” said Gagnon. “The health risks here are undefined and unconstrained and need to be looked at.”
Chatham-Kent’s medical officer of health had previously said there is no health hazard in the well water, however, the activist group Water Wells First has continued to push for a health hazard investigation.
Matt Wilson, president of the Ontario Ground Water Association, said although this issue directly affects people within the Chatham-Kent area, it could soon affect people in other parts of the province if proper steps aren’t taken.
“Despite numerous wind projects being shut down, there is currently another wind project underway in the Finch area, south of Ottawa,” said Wilson. “Similar geological conditions exist in parts of this aquifer and similar damage could potentially result.”
The press conference ended with final words from Kevin Jakubec, co-founder of Water Wells First. He read a letter sent by Premiere Doug Ford with the promise of an investigation, following a trip through Chatham-Kent during his campaign. With no update as to when an impartial investigation can be expected, Jakubec said Chatham-Kent is being “left behind” to deal with these problems.
Jakubec also referenced a report from 2016, Environmental Burden of Cancer in Ontario, with questions on whether Chatham-Kent’s well water causes or contributes to cancer.
“If we’re going to look for efficiencies – as this government likes to do at this present time – there can be no better efficiency than preventative cancer and investigation treatment,” he said.