Chatham-Kent residents have been raising concerns for years after several water wells in the North Kent Wind farm area of Chatham Township began getting clogged with sediments during and after 34 industrial wind turbines were erected.
An expert panel established by the Ministry of Health to investigate concerns with particles clogging private water wells points to potential interference from the North Kent Wind farm as a cause, but no widespread health risks.
There also wasn’t widespread participation by property owners.
The Chatham Daily News obtained a copy of the 22-page All-Hazards Investigation of Well Water in Chatham-Kent on Monday afternoon along with a letter being sent to affected residents in the North Kent Wind project area by the Ministry of Health.
The citizen group Water Wells First began demanding a health hazard investigation in 2018 after several water wells were clogged with sediments during construction of the North Kent Wind project that continued when it became operational. The group blamed the vibrations from erecting the turbines, which involved driving pile into the Kettle Point black shale aquifer that the wells draw water from.
“This project involved testing private well water on an extensive suite of over 90 parameters including chemical (metals and inorganics), biological (bacteria and organics), physical, and radioactive substances,” stated the letter signed by Robert Lerch, acting director with the Ministry of Health.
“Based on the sampling and testing completed there were no widespread health risks identified,” he added.
For individual wells where a specific parameter, such as bacteria, was identified outside the expected range, the well owners were contacted to discuss remediation, Lerch said.
The study compared results of a baseline study of water wells survey assessment for the North Kent Wind project by AECOM Canada Ltd. in 2016-17 prior to the 34 industrial wind turbines being constructed in the Chatham Township area.
Englobe Corporation was contracted in December 2020 to conduct a water well sampling and testing program, which took place last year. However, it was noted in the report a total of 309 pre-sampling water well surveys were distributed by mail and hand delivered to potential participants, but only 72 responses were received with 70 respondents consenting to take part.
Wells for the second phase of sampling and testing were selected to “provide further spatial coverage” within the study area. The sampling program was originally intended to include 140 to 150 wells, but Englobe was only able to recruit 21 participants, the report stated.
Despite fewer participants than hoped for, part of the report’s conclusions stated the water quality in the study area was found to be “rather poor as indicated by numerous exceedances for multiple aesthetic parameters including turbidity, total dissolved solids, total suspended solids and iron.
“The analytical results provided in the report support the self-reported water quality issues for discolouration, odour, taste and sediment issues that were indicated by residents in response to Englobe’s pre-sampling water well survey,” added the report.
The report also concluded a comparison of the results generated by Englobe’s work with those in the baseline assessment “strongly suggest a significant deterioration in general well water quality within the study area between 2017 and 2021.
“This result is certainly consistent with well water interference having occurred within the study area since 2017, potentially due to construction and/or operation of the North Kent wind turbines,” added the report.
Several “contaminants of concern” are identified by Englobe’s sampling, including lead, arsenic and total coliforms. However, the sparse sampling does not allow for “generalization of potential health risks with a high level of confidence,” the report added.
The report notes “the absolute number of wells that returned exceedances for lead and arsenic is small,” noting it represents 3.5 per cent of the wells analyzed for those parameters (or five per cent if the Health Canada maximum acceptable concentration for lead were accepted).
The report added, “. . . there is a potential for a larger number of wells in the study area to also have exceedances in those metals.”
One of the report’s recommendations calls for further study “with a focus on expanding the available data set for water wells in the study area, application of statistical analyses and detailed investigation of bioavailability of contaminants in the well water and in solids that are in suspension within the water.”
Lerch said the government is planning to act on the expert panel’s findings and recommendations.
“Our government promised to look into concerns about the quality of well water in the community, which is exactly what this Expert Panel has done,” said Lambton-Kent-Middlesex MPP Monte McNaughton, in a written statement.
“It’s clear that more research is needed, and I’m pleased to see the Ministry of Health has committed to this,” he added.
“While some want to bring even more wind turbines to Chatham-Kent, Premier (Doug) Ford and I will continue to stand up for residents, as we did when we cancelled the Otter Creek wind turbines and the Green Energy Act,” said McNaughton, who is also Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development.