Marilynn St. Pierre travelled Wednesday from the Mitchell’s Bay area to Queen’s Park to ask the Progressive Conservative government to honour a promise to look into water problems in the north area of Chatham-Kent.
“My water supply is horribly polluted with black shale,” St. Pierre said. “Premier Ford knows this. In fact, Mr. Ford took decisive action to solve this problem.”
The citizens group Water Wells First began raising concerns three years ago about the potential impact the construction and operation of the North Kent Wind farm would have on water wells because of the Kettle Point black shale geology and shallow aquifer in the area.
Since that time, several property owners experienced well water problems, including significant amounts of sediments that have clogged up the flow of water during construction and after operation of the wind farm began. The group says this particular shale is known to contain metals such as uranium, arsenic and lead that are harmful to human health.
But the developers of the wind farm – Korean industrial giant Samsung and its American partner Pattern Energy- have stated the wind farm has had no impact on area water wells. This claim was supported by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change under the previous Liberal government.
St Pierre, a cancer survivor, said Ford committed to undertake a health hazard investigation into this problem in Chatham-Kent.
“I am fearful that cancer will return if the health hazard investigation isn’t done soon and we don’t get the answers we need,” she said.
Essex NDP MPP Taras Natyshak pressed Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton to provide answers over the ongoing well water concerns in McNaughton’s riding, during question period at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
Natyshak reminded McNaughton that Ford promised those affected “by this contamination” that he would conduct a health hazard investigation immediately.
Noting, “immediately has come and gone,” and more than a year later, people are still waiting for this investigation, the MPP called on McNaughton to make good on this promise “to ensure these Ontarians have clean and safe drinking water.”
McNaughton responded the government has been working hard on this issue and there will be more to say.
Then he took aim at Natyshak, calling it “ironic” that the Essex MPP and the NDP voted in favour ofthe Samsung agreement to allow the wind farm to be built in Chatham-Kent.
“We were left with this mess. We are going to clean it up. They caused this problem. We’ll take no advice from that member opposite,” McNaughton said.
Natyshak said in an interview that McNaughton “dodged the question and went straight to the rhetoric book they rely on when they don’t have a straight-up answer for people who are concerned about issues in their communities.”
He said McNaughton knows this issue well so “for him not to be prepared to give us any hope or any inkling that his ministry and himself actually have a plan on this is quite disappointing to the folks who made the trip up to Toronto (Wednesday).”
When asked in an interview if there will be health hazard investigation, McNaughton said, “Absolutely.”
When asked if it would be done within the year, he said, “We’ll be making it public very soon what process has been going on for the past 10 months and what will happen in the future.
The minister also stated: “I want to be clear that we’ve been taking these concerns very seriously.”
McNaughton said the government’s first step was to cancel the Otter Creek Wind project, slated for to be built north of Wallaceburg on the same Kettle Point black shale.
“We didn’t want to make the situation any worse,” he said, adding the government also scrapped the Green Energy Act, resulting in the cancellations of 758 wind and solar contracts.
Joel Gagnon, head of the heavy metals lab at the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research, said he was asked to get involved about a year ago.
“The purpose of the investigation is to look at research questions that we can address within the confines and within the mandate of a university,” he said.
Having found residents in the area had in excess of 100 years of good quality water, he said the problems experienced with the water wells were predicted with the construction of the wind farm.
“There’s good scientific evidence to link turbine installation and operation to groundwater impacts,” Gagnon said.
He said the impacts on water quality are quite diverse.
“We’re looking at excessive amounts of suspended sediment comprising Kettle Point black shale,” Gagnon said.
He added there is excessive biomass production which leads to foul smelling and tasting water, along with excessive gas production, which contains radon.
Collectively, Gagnon said people are being exposed to dermal, ingestion and inhalation hazards for a cocktail of what could potentially be toxic metals as well as radon gas.
“The health risks here are undefined and unconstrained and need to be looked at,” he said.
Kevin Jakubec, a founder of the Water Wells First group, who was also at Queen’s Park Wednesday, said, “Patience with Premier Ford delivering and making good on his promise of an investigation is now completely exasperated.
“To date, no experts or resources have been brought into Chatham-Kent to deal with the water problem by the Ford government.”
When asked if the Ministry of Health has had people on site, McNaughton said: “We’ll be providing an update very, very soon.”
Jakubec points to a 2016 joint report from Cancer Care Ontario and Public Health Ontario that said Ontarians are getting cancer each year from environmental carcinogen exposures.
“The report specifically acknowledged the heavy metal arsenic,” he said. “Arsenic causes a cancer burden on Ontario’s beleaguered health-care system each year.”
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