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Tottenham Water: “We want clean water, and filtration at the source”

December 13, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Wendy Gabrek

Members of the local group, Tottenham Water, held a meeting at the Tottenham Community & Fitness Centre on Tuesday, December 3 to discuss the quality of the tap water in Tottenham.

Hosted by Tottenham Water founders Nancy McBride and Cheryl Anne Schmidt, the two-hour meeting took place in the gymnasiumwith hundreds of people attending.

“I raised my babies on this water,” McBride said, opening the meeting, “and that’s created terrible feelings for me.”

McBride’s feelings stem from the high levels of THMs (or Trihalomethanes) in the Tottenham water – the biproduct of using chlorine to treat water that contains organic matter – resulting from using water, sourced from four local wells, to meet the demand of Tottenham’s municipal water clients.

The use of chlorine in the water has also resulted in high levels of ammonia, bromide, and methane, according to reports discussed by McBride.

In addition to McBride and Schmidt, also on the panel at Monday’s meeting were David Donnelly, an environmental lawyer who has been retained by Tottenham Water to provide legal advice, and Mike Balkwill, Wellington Water Watchers’ campaign manager, there to provide support and information.

The night began with McBride’s explanation of the water issues facing Tottenham residents, and recognition of the original people of the land.

McBride said she believed that everyone was entitled to know what was going on, and was thankful for the turnout – proving “how important this issue is to us all.”

“I’d like to state Tottenham Water’s mandate: ‘Clean water Now’,” said McBride. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

“We’ve been denied clean, potable water,” McBride went on to say, “and that goes against our basic human rights. As the basis of life itself, we want safe, clean, potable water for our health and peace of mind.”

Activist Mike Balkwill took the floor, stating, “We have a set of demands, and we’ll see who wants to take action. We will present a strategy for moving forward.”

McBride stated that Tottenham Water was founded at her kitchen table when Schmidt and herself met to discuss the aesthetic issues with their tap water – running yellow, brown and silty.

“We didn’t know that anyone knew about the invisible stuff in our water,” McBride said. 

From there, TW grew and the group began to look at how the water in Tottenham was treated for consumption.

“We don’t have filtration, so we add chlorine to our water,” McBride confirmed. “In the short term that works, but you can’t keep adding more and more of it. Nobody wants to drink a tub of

[chlorine]

, that’s for sure.”

According to McBride, Tottenham is currently using ten times the amount of chlorine to treat its water then surrounding areas.

“How do we deal with this?” McBride asked. “Not by adding more chlorine, and not by ignoring the issue.”

Adding chlorine to the water has resulted in THM levels that exceed 100 um/L – the maximum allowable amount, according to the Safe Water Act.

McBride says these levels have exceeded the 100 um/L mark since 2013.

“We don’t want to be near the max, and certainly not for long,” she said.

McBride says high THM levels can lead to certain cancers, including colon and breast, as well as liver and kidney damage, skin rash, hair loss and miscarriage.

“We don’t know how many people have these issues and how many issues are related to the water,” said McBride.

McBride says she has actively been trying to reach out to the MP (then Dr. Kellie Leitch, now Terry Dowdall), and the Simcoe–Grey MPP (Jim Wilson) with regard to The Town of New Tecumseth’s Water Master Plan. She also says that local hospitals do track disease and addresses.

McBride stated the Collingwood pipeline was originally built to supply Honda of Canada Manufacturing in Alliston, “to bring clean water as to not disrupt the flow of production or parts supply.”

She also stated that Honda’s water is direct from the pipeline, and only mixed with water from one well, “providing better quality water than even Alliston residents get, as Alliston residents drink water mixed from three wells.”

“Priority for government appears to be manufacturing and business,” said McBride.

The current pipeline stops in Beeton, and the people of Tottenham were told it was coming.

“The pipeline is coming!” a saying McBride says follows has become a tag line in the water watchers community.

“We have heard that now for going on two decades,” she said.

But McBride states that by the time the water gets south to Tottenham from Collingwood there won’t be enough supply to meet the demand.

“We are running out of water, and we can’t get any more water,” she said. 

Even when the pipeline is built, McBride stated the water will still need to be blended with well water – the source of the current issue.

“The little water that’s left they want to send it to us, mixed with our cruddy water,” McBride said. “We pay the same amount of taxes. We are the same town, and we’re told we need to be quiet.”

An articling law student, also on the panel, stated that in her research – including reading the Water Master Plan (2016) – she had discovered the compound bromide was present in high levels in Tottenham’s water.

The floor was then open for Q&A. The people asking the questions did not offer their names or addresses.

“What is the solution?”

“That’s an excellent question,” said McBride, “and that’s why we’re all here.”

McBride, who admits she is not a water expert, says she thinks soil at the former PMC Plant and the quality of the imported soil at the Tottenham Aerodrome need to be investigated to help answer that question.

Another question came through about household filtration. Does it work?

McBride said that some residents were using Brita filtration units, and others more complex systems – valued at up to $15,000, she estimates.

Another question came through about timelines.

“My timeline was twenty years ago,” said McBride. “I know people have said ‘you need to come up with a solution’. I am not a water expert, but I do know that no town councillors live in Tottenham.”

McBride suggested the only way to get the attention of council was to “hit them where it hurts”, referring to the new Town Municipal Office – with an expected price tag of $20 million.

“Knock it down and put in the water system,” suggested one resident.

Addressing the issue of water in local schools, McBride explained the download of water issues from the Federal to Provincial government, and finally onto the municipality.

“It’s an expensive investment,” she said. “And so it’s pretty important that the feds and the province assist us with getting clean water.”

At this point in the meeting, attention turned towards demands and an action plan – something, the panel said, would be necessary in the delivery of clean water.

“You’re going to have to pressure your politicians to protect the public investment,” said Balkwill, who also polled the audience, posing questions and looking for raised hands on who was ready to take action. Action, he said that included a legal strategy.

Lawyer David Donnelly then explained the options to the group, stating that in Canada, “we have not taken water issues seriously.”

Donnelly’s options included a plan to invest in community organizations – such as Tottenham Water; to hire a toxicologist who could look at the water from the actual taps of the complainants; and to hire an epidemiologist who could study the effects of drinking the water over a longer period of time.

Donnelly said that if individuals, or groups of people from Tottenham wanted to take legal action, they would need to start getting sample readings of THM levels, tracked over a period of time. Although Donnelly’s firm does not handle class action lawsuits, there were a number of lawyers present, waiting to speak to residents as they left the meeting.

As they left, residents were also given printed information on the background of Tottenham’s water, a “Clean Water Now” brochure from Tottenham Water, and a bookmark with the names, email addresses and phone numbers of three local politicians – Town of New Tecumseth Mayor Rick Milne, Simcoe–Grey MPP Jim Wilson, and Minister of the Environment Jeff Yurek. The bookmark reads, “Contact the following and say only ‘filtration at source’ is the acceptable solution to guarantee clean water now for Tottenham residents.”

Residents in attendance were encouraged to phone or email politicians, attend Christmas gatherings, and do whatever it takes to get “Filtration at Source Now!”, while they organize future actions.

The Times will continue to bring you updates on the situation as they become available. 



         


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