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City wants answers about Pointe des Chenes drinking water

City Council wants to know whose job it is to advise residents of potential drinking water contamination, and whether timely, appropriate notice was given in Pointe des Chenes
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Ward 6 councillor Ross Romano argues that Pointe des Chenes residents should be provided with specific statistical data indicating what's going on with their water.

Sault Ste. Marie City Council is questioning whether provincial standards and regulations were followed during the local response to drinking water concerns in the Pointe des Chenes/Nokomis Beach area.

"There ought to be an agency accountable to the public to ensure that residents that could be affected by concerns ... are made known at the first available opportunity," said a resolution approved by councillors last night.

Timely notification, the resolution said, would "ensure that residents can make informed decisions with respect to matters affecting their safety and wellbeing,"

In reports published on November 25, November 28 and November 30, SooToday has described problems with carcinogenic benzene that have rendered water undrinkable since 2008 at Lions Club Pointe des Chenes Campground.

Last month, water samples were collected by Transport Canada from homes near the campground on Nokomis Beach Road, Des Chenes Drive and Pointe des Chenes Crescent, to determine whether benzene has found its way into residential wells.

Similar testing in 2008 found no benzene in private wells.

This year, unacceptably high benzene levels are still present in untreated water entering the water treatment plant serving Pointe des Chenes Campground, although recently installed filtration equipment appears to have fixed the problem in water treated at the plant.

Algoma Public Health believes the benzene is coming from fire training exercises at the nearby Sault Ste. Marie Airport.

Transport Canada has been testing the campground and a firefighting training area on the airport property for benzene and perfluoroalkyl substances.

The resolution approved by City Council last night asked city staff to determine:

  • the obligations of Algoma Public Health, the City of Sault Ste. Marie and other related agencies to provide timely notice to residents and other potentially concerned parties
  • which agencies should be held accountable for notice decisions
  • whether the Pointe des Chenes matter was properly handled under Ontario regulations and standards.

Ward 6 councillor Ross Romano, who introduced last night's Pointe des Chenes resolution, argued that residents should be provided with specific statistical data indicating what's going on with their water.

Romano added that city councillors need to know whether the Pointe des Chenes matter was handled appropriately.

Romano, who owns property near the airport but doesn't have a water well, claimed that residents of Pointe des Chenes and Nokomis Beach were not notified of concerns about their drinking water by the city, Algoma Public Health or any other agency.

But Jonathon Bouma, manager of environmental health at Algoma Public Health, said in a memo to the city yesterday that affected residents were notified of the benzene issues in 2008 and also this year, when a letter and benzene fact sheet were sent to each homeowner.

"Ingestion of the chemical benzene through drinking water is the primary concern," Bouma said, adding that "no benzene has been found outside of the campground or airport."

"I think it's imperative that we get some kind of a report advising us as to whether all these things should be done, whether what was done needs provincial regulations, and... who this falls on," councillor Romano said.

Transport Canada's next steps wil be determined once findings from the residential well water testing are received.

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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