'Serious shortcomings': C-K residents wary about PC's new water well investigation

The leader of a Chatham-Kent environmental group is calling on the Ontario PC government to hold public consultations regarding a water contamination investigation announced last week. 

The Ford government launched investigation into water well contamination last week

Kevin Jakubec, left, and Joel Gagnon, right, hope that the Ontario PC government will hold public consultations over issues with Chatham-Kent's water supply. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

The leader of a Chatham-Kent citizens' group is calling on the Ford government to hold public consultations regarding a water contamination investigation announced last week. 

Ontario labour minister and PC Lambton-Kent Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton announced the investigation on July 19 to look into concerns about water well contamination allegedly stemming from pile driving work carried out for a wind energy development project. 

A panel of five independent experts was convened to determine "if the water from private wells in Chatham-Kent is safe for consumption."

Kevin Jakubec — who co-founded the Water Wells First environmental group in 2016 and has repeatedly lobbied for an investigation into the safety of local water supplies — said he's concerned water supply contamination is "worse than Flint, Mich."

Kevin Jakubec co-founded Water Wells First in 2016. He says he's concerned that water supply contamination in Chatham-Kent's is "worse than Flint, Mich. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

In a letter addressed to McNaughton, Jakubec said he saw "several serious shortcomings" with the government's announced investigation.

"There's no one on the committee who comes from the discipline of hydrogeology, there is no one with any geochemistry related to black shales and there is also no one from seismology," Jakubec told CBC News, referring to scientific backgrounds he'd like to see represented in the panel.

"We feel that this would be a complete waste of time and money for the Ford government to continue this effort if they don't address that serious, massive hole of expertise that they need to bring on board."

As it stands, the panel is comprised of one geologist, an environmental health scientist, an epidemiologist, a specialist in toxicology, as well as another toxicologist. 

In his letter to McNaughton, Jakubec expressed a desire for a public meeting so that community members can share their concerns with the provincial government. 

Jakubec told CBC News he hopes the government "can be held accountable, so that the government is operating in an open and transparent fashion with this community and that our community, which has spent over $400,000 in pushing this issue and advocating this issue … can work in a collaborative and interactive manner with the investigation panel."

'Struggling daily, weekly, monthly'

Were a public consultation convened, Jakubec said many community members would want to ask why Joel Gagnon, a professor and director of the University of Windsor's School of the Environment, wasn't drafted to aid in the government's investigation. 

"His research and his assistance … has been absolutely instrumental in our understanding of just how serious this problem is," said Jakubec. 

Gagnon became involved with Water Wells First approximately a year ago, and said he'd have something to contribute were he asked to join the panel.

He told CBC News the community is struggling "daily, weekly, monthly with water quality challenges."

University of Windsor professor Joel Gagnon has been working with Chatham-Kent to study the community's water supply for over a year. He says he'd be able to contribute to the government's panel. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"We approached it as a simple filtration challenge with filtration media and it's evolved into dealing with explosive gases, hazardous gases in the form of radon, as well as biomass and biofilm production," said Gagnon. "From a treatment standpoint this is very complex."

According to Gagnon, the particulate and harmful matter affecting the community's water supply stem from a local shale formation.

"The Kettle Point shale was prospected in the past … and it's known to contain large quantities of methane," said Gagnon. "The shale also contains uranium, which produces radon, so that radon gas is also in the methane. The biomass is coming from the aquifer."

Gagnon added that bacteria living in the aquifer has become mobile "because the sediment has become mobile, because of vibrations from the wind turbine installations."

'We need more openness'

While Gagnon wouldn't share his thoughts on the panel's ability to adequately carry out the investigation, he emphasized that the community should be consulted.

"We need to hear what that group is proposing, we need to see what kind of testing will be done so that the community can respond and determine [whether it will] meet the needs and … address their concerns going forward," said Gagnon. "We need more openness, we need more consultations."

Gagnon added that he doesn't know if the water supply issue can be fixed.

"I don't think that's a question anybody can answer at this point," he said. "I know as a hydrogeologist, you do everything in your power to prevent impact to an aquifer, because experience says that once an aquifer is impacted, recovering that aquifer is impossible or next to impossible."

McNaughton responds

In a statement sent to CBC News Friday, Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton said the following in response to the concerns about the study:

"Last year, citizens in Southwestern Ontario brought their concerns forward to Premier Ford about the water quality in their wells. They expressed concerns about bias and asked for an independent health hazard investigation. They asked that toxicologists be included in the review.

The Premier committed to act and I'm happy to say, we are following through on this promise. We have struck an independent panel of five experts; one geologist, an environmental health scientist, an epidemiologist and two toxicologists. They will be able to conduct their work without our involvement. When they deliver their report, these will be results that people can trust."


With files from Jonathan Pinto