By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ten years have passed since Christine Burke began her fight for clean well water.
But while frustrated, she’s far from done. In partnership with the Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns group, Burke has started a GoFundMe campaign to pay for sediment testing in affected wells.
Launched Jan. 4, the GoFundMe effort passed the halfway mark towards its $12,000 goal after only three days, with one donor committing $5,000.
“This is for the people that are financially burdened,” Burke said of the fundraiser, as the testing costs about $1,500 per well. The initial fundraiser will cover the cost to test six or seven wells in late January.
Burke said a certified hydrologist will draw the samples, maintaining the chain of custody, and ship them to RTI Laboratories in Livonia, Mich. for analysis.
Burke said RTI’s technology is state-of-the-art. It’s the same company that conducted testing in the Flint water crisis.
According to Burke, the decision to undertake further testing is going forward based on a recommendation from local geologist Keith Benn. The Port Lambton resident sat on the expert panel of an all-hazard investigation carried out by the provincial government.
The probe came about following an election promise made by Premier Doug Ford to conduct a health hazard study of brown and black water from wells said to be affected by the construction and operation of wind turbines in North Kent.
However, the province downgraded the investigation to an all-hazard study and excluded property owners in Dover, who like their counterparts in Chatham Township, had dark sediment fouling their wells.
In a report released last November, Benn said the results of the all-hazard study fell short, as some of the solid particles found in the North Kent area wells had elevated levels of heavy metals, including arsenic, cadmium, lead and nickel.
Benn said bioaccessibility testing needs to be carried out on the wells to determine if the elevated concentrations of heavy metals pose a health hazard concern.
The all-hazard study had other shortfalls, Burke said, noting it excluded affected well owners in the Dover area and only focused on property owners in the vicinity of the North Kent Wind Farm.
Burke lives in the area of the 55-turbine East Lake St. Clair Wind Farm on Bay Line. Construction of the wind farm began in 2012 and it became fully operational in 2014.
Burke said she and her husband Terry began to experience problems their well in 2013. However, they thought they were the only ones with the problem.
Their water – once pure and crystal clear for nearly a century – turned dirty. Burke said her dishwasher and washing machine broke down at the same time, unable to handle the sediment in the water and the family’s laundry began to have dark splotches.
At first, the Burkes didn’t associate the turbines with their water problems. The couple replaced their water line and all their plumbing before discovering others in the area were experiencing similar problems.
“We did everything under the sun,” Burke said. “Terry and I were just in shock.”
Today, the Burkes have a complex filtering system on their well. However, the family still has no idea how the heavy metals in the water are affecting their health.
Burke, who can see 32 turbines from the end of her driveway, said she thinks there are about 20 wells affected by the East Lake St. Clair project, but she can’t be sure as some of the property owners are bound by gag orders.
Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns, formed to fight the construction of the Otter Creek Wind Farm – which they did successfully – is standing strong with the Dover-area well owners.
“The all-hazard study investigation completed by the province was incomplete,” said executive member Denise Shephard, noting the findings indicate a significant deterioration of water quality within the footprint of the North Kent Wind Farm between 2017 and 2021.
Shephard, who believes the property owners in Dover deserve to have their wells tested, is asking for the public’s support to fund the well testing costs.
The link to the fundraiser can be found on the WAWC Facebook page. Donations can also be mailed to Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns, 294 East River Rd., Wallaceburg, ON N8A 4L2.