LETTER: The deafening silence

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Editor: In July 2019, the Ministry of Health launched an all-hazard investigation of well water in Chatham-Kent in response to concerns expressed by residents regarding the deterioration in the quality of water sourced from their private wells. During construction and operation of several industrial wind turbine complexes in northern Chatham-Kent, residents noted the increased turbidity and discoloration of their water as well as the increased presence of sediment (very fine solid particles) in the water. Notably, it was feared that some of the sediment might be composed of a black shale that is known to be enriched in heavy metals.

Objectives of the investigation therefore included sampling and chemical analysis of both water and sediment to determine whether the water and/or the sediment contained potentially toxic substances.

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.

Keith Benn

Chatham-Kent

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