Hamilton

Stoney Creek residents concerned about safety of Lake Ontario water amid investigation

Robert Horning, 59, is no stranger to fights. He's battled stage-four cancer for years, but said he is ready for another one — the fight to save the Lake Ontario water behind his home, which he thinks has been contaminated.

'I think about it every time I step into the shower ... is it safe? What's in it?'

Robert Horning, 59, is no stranger to fights. He's battled stage-four cancer for years but said he is ready for another one — the fight to save the Lake Ontario water behind his home, which he thinks has been contaminated. His complaints in June spurred a provincial investigation. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Robert Horning has been living by Lake Ontario for 10 years, but says the past two years have been odd.

The fish that used to spawn feet away from his backyard are gone. Then, the lake water began to reek of sewage. But two months ago, after complaints from his grandchildren, Horning noticed the water was black and grey, with rocks on the shoreline stained a rusty red and orange hue.

It's the same water he and other neighbours pump into their homes and use.

"We use that water for washing the dishes, watering the grass, for showers ... it smells when it's warm," the 59-year-old told CBC News.

"I think about it every time I step into the shower ... is it safe? What's in it?"

The rocks along the Lake Ontario shoreline are discoloured, becoming more of an orange or red tone. That same water is what residents with homes just yards away use to clean and shower. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

In June, he complained to the city of Hamilton. It spurred and investigation from the Ministry of the Environment.

The city's working theory is Bartek Ingredients, a chemical plant located along the same drain system, had something leak out of it and seep into the lake.

So far, the city has found more metal in the ditch water by Bartek, but there are still questions about what's in the water and what impact it may have on people or the environment.

The ministry is evaluating its own samples taken on July 17. It said Bartek has excavated the ditch beside its facility, replaced culverts and are pumping water from the ditch to its on-site water treatment system until all parties know what's causing the issue.

The ministry also told CBC News the city is plotting potential clean-up measures along the drainage ditch from the north side of the QEW to Lake Ontario, and is "investigating potential sources from municipal sewers."

The Ministry of the Environment has been investigating alongside Bartek Ingredients and the city of Hamilton to determine why ditchwater near the factory and water in Lake Ontario is turning black and smelling like sewage. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Adam Blanchard, 33, is on the other side of the park, which is really just an empty plot of unkempt grass.

He has been in the area since Christmas and has noticed the water is darker than normal.

"I noticed the city has been down here ... they've been doing a lot of examining," Blanchard told CBC News.

"Hopefully they figure out what's causing it and it gets dealt with."

He also noticed an unforgettable stench.

"In May or June, walking down that dirt path, the smell was really strong ... almost an egg smell, like a garbage, feces smell, to the point where it's overwhelming. I can't even catch my breath," he told CBC News.

"One time I was walking and I had to stop because I thought I was going to throw up from the smell. I work in garbage, and I've never smelled that."

That path he walked and the stink that stopped him in his tracks leads right to the shore by Horning's home.

Robert Horning loves his grandkids, but wonders if the potentially tainted water in Lake Ontario will spoil the time he has left to spend with his grandson and granddaughter. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

The front of Horning's lot looks like an auto shop or a scrapyard, with car parts and tools scattered around the yard. The back of his property, however, extends to the lake and offers a perfect spot for fishing, swimming or admiring sunsets. But the problems by the water have spoiled his oasis.

"There's no fish, not even a zebra mussel anymore," he said.

His eight-year-old grandson, Dominic, and five-year-old granddaughter, Alivia, love to visit and cast their rods from the backyard. Horning said Alivia once caught a 15-pound rainbow trout. Dominic has only reeled in fish no longer than five or six inches in length.

Dominic Horning carries his fishing rod around whenever he visits his grandfather near Cherry Beach Park. He normally spends lots of time by the lake, waiting to catch the biggest fish of his life. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)
Eight-year-old Dominic Horning loves spending time fishing out of Lake Ontario from his grandfather's backyard. That same body of water is part of a government investigation after his grandpa, Robert, reported a sewage smell coming from the lake. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

"I'd love my grandson to come down here and catch a 10-pound salmon. That would be awesome," Horning said.

Horning's dream of seeing both his grandchildren catch a massive fish in his backyard is fading. It's something he hopes to see, but doesn't know if he will with his stage-four cancer.

"It's about legacy ... I'm ready for a fight," he emphasized.

"I want to get him the big fish. It's memories of Papa. That's all he'll have left."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.

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