Water well issue heads to ombudsman

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Geologist Keith Benn and Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns member Christine Burke display the results of fine-sediment testing of nine wells in North Kent. The results show that heavy metals found in the wells may be bio-accessible and harmful to human health. The latest effort to force government involvement has seen information shared with the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A group of North Kent residents worried about the quality of their well water have taken their concerns to the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman.

According to Christine Burke of Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns, a complaint has been submitted to the ombudsman’s general investigations unit, asking why the province hasn’t taken any action on a request from Chatham-Kent to further probe the water well issue.

The letter, signed by Burke and local geologist Keith Benn, asks the ombudsman’s office to inform affected well owners if the province is going to complete a “proper and necessary” investigation into their well water, that would include examining the bio-accessibility of potentially toxic metals found in sediment in the wells.

It also asks when the work is expected to begin, as well as the “precise objectives” of the work, plus what methods would be employed in the testing.

Burke said the complaint was submitted because the Ministry of Health has failed to answer C-K’s request for further testing sent to Minister of Health Sylvia Jones in May 2023.

Burke said she’s puzzled by the government’s failure to respond.

“They did not complete the health hazard study,” Burke told The Voice. “The whole point of it was to analyze the sediment in the wells. That wasn’t done and it’s very concerning.”

The long-time safe water advocate said it’s hard to get others to understand.

“It’s so difficult to open up the eyes of the people who have access to safe water,” she said.

According to Burke, both she and Benn had a lengthy conference call with an investigator from the ombudsman’s office Dec. 1, but haven’t heard anything since.

The ombudsman’s complaint is the latest link in a decade-long chain of events initiated by North Kent residents who have watched the quality of their water deteriorate since wind turbines were built. The water in some affected wells is dark and murky, making it unfit for human consumption or to use washing dishes or clothes.

Residents blame the changes squarely on the installation and operation of numerous wind turbines disturbing the aquifer. In response to the property owners’ quest for answers, the province conducted an all-hazard investigation of well water in 2021. It determined that well water in North Kent wind farm area to be of “substantially poorer quality” than well water outside of where the wind turbines are located, noting it deteriorated from 2017 to 2021. It referenced several parameters of concern, including iron content, turbidity and the presence of very fine-grained sediment carrying heavy metals that may be harmful to humans.

Failing to examine the sediment is a “fatal flaw,” according to Benn, who sat on the six-member expert panel that oversaw the investigation.

That led water well owners in the Dover area to conduct their own well analyses. The Wallaceburg Area Wind Concerns group set up a GoFundMe effort that raised enough money to test the sediment from nine wells.

Conducted by an independent laboratory in Michigan in January 2023, the water analysis found “significant concentrations” of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, and nickel contained in the wells. Mercury was found in two cases.

It’s unknown if the metals are bio-accessible to humans.

A motion put forward by North Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville to conduct a health hazard study on affected wells was endorsed by Chatham-Kent council earlier this year. The municipality has sent two letters to the Ministry of Health asking the government for further investigation but these have not been answered as of press time.

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