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Mississippi Mills residents hoping for more answers after chemicals found in water

The federal minister of science has asked the National Research Council to develop a "long-term risk mitigation action plan that includes regular, ongoing testing of residents' water" after chemicals were found in the drinking water of some homes near a fire safety testing facility in Mississippi Mills, Ont.

Minister of science asks NRC to come up with plan to test drinking water on 'regular, ongoing' basis

J.D. Heffern, who lives in the affected area, says residents want to know why the chemicals were able to seep into the water in the first place. (CBC News)

About 100 people crowded into the legion in Carleton Place, Ont., on Wednesday evening for an informal community meeting to discuss their concerns about contaminated drinking water near a federal research facility, and spent three hours coming up with a list of questions for the National Research Council, as well as municipal and federal officials.

The affected residents assigned each other tasks, plan to seek out and consult with some of their own experts, and are hoping for a face-to-face meeting with NRC officials, as well as Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.

The residents told CBC News they want to know how long the water has been contaminated with chemicals — especially since there is limited information about the health effects of PFAS on humans. 

The National Fire Laboratory has been operated by the NRC on Ramsay Concession Road 8 since 1981. It was singled out for an environmental assessment that began in 2013.

'Who's to say they didn't know prior to that?'

J.D. Heffern, who lives near the NRC facility with his wife and three daughters, found out about the groundwater testing on Christmas Eve. He wants to know why residents were not notified sooner.

"We know that in 2013, studies were done ... that showed PFAS in groundwater and surface water, and now we're finding out about it. And so that's a tremendous concern, because if they knew then, who's to say they didn't know prior to that? We'll be looking into that as well," Heffern said.

About 100 residents showed up at a public meeting last spring to start drafting a list of questions for the National Research Council, as well as municipal and federal leaders. (CBC News)

"It was kind of stomach churning, for sure. Concerning. You have a flood of emotions and thoughts going through your head. 'What does this mean?'" he said. "It definitely was overwhelming and I think I share those feeling with many of our neighbours."

In addition to the chemicals in the water, Heffern said residents are also concerned about a "lack of procedure and risk mitigation."

"The questions [we have] are not so much about the levels of the chemicals that are in the water, but just, how did it get there? How did we get to this point?"

Water to be tested on 'regular, ongoing' basis

Duncan has asked the National Research Council to develop a "long-term risk mitigation action plan that includes regular, ongoing testing of residents' water" after chemicals were found in the drinking water of some homes near a fire safety testing facility in Mississippi Mills, Ont.

The National Fire Laboratory is located on Ramsay Concession Road 8. (CBC)

Duncan told CBC News in an email statement Wednesday that the National Fire Laboratory will remain in operation, as the NRC has already "taken actions to mitigate the situation," including distributing bottled water and offering residents carbon filtration systems in their homes.

Homes were tested after perfluoroalkylated substances, or PFAS, which are found in firefighting foams, were discovered in the groundwater from drill sites close to the facility's border.

"It is important to note that work with firefighting foams containing PFAS has not taken place since 2015," Duncan wrote. "As of today, with the mitigation measures taken, all residences in the assessment area that have been tested are testing below the Health Canada screening values."

Duncan did not say when in 2015 the use of those foams stopped.

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