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Chelsea homeowner finds uranium in water

April 22nd,2024 | Environment

Farm Point resident Melanie Benard peers through a glass of fresh water she poured through her reverse osmosis filtration system. She was compelled to install the $800 system after uranium levels in her well came back at three times the recommended limit by Health Canada. Photo: Trevor Greenway

When Melanie Benard moved into “Environmentally Friendly” Chelsea a year ago, she never imagined that she would be drinking uranium straight from her well. 

But after noticing a sulphur smell during blasting operations in Farm Point for the River Road stabilization project last summer, she thought getting a mineral test done would be a good idea. 

The results were “quite a shock.”

“I’d be lying if I said I felt totally safe,” said Benard. 

The water tests obtained by the Low Down show that Benard has three times the level of uranium that is considered safe. According to the federal health agency, Canada’s limit for uranium is 0.02 mg/L; Benard’s well shows three times that amount at 0.06 mg/L.

“So I’ve been doing the bacteria testing as recommended, and it came back saying that the water was safe, like safe drinking water,” said Benard, pouring a glass of water from her reverse osmosis system – an $800 system she was compelled to install so that she can safely drink her tap water. 

“So the only reason I did the additional testing is that [work crews] had done a lot of blasting when they did the construction on Chemin de la Rivière. The house would shake repeatedly throughout the day, and I noticed a sulphur smell.”

According to Chelsea spokesperson Ghislaine Grenier, the municipality is aware that uranium has been found in some residents’ wells, but said that an “expert” concluded that there is no correlation between blasting along Chemin de la Rivière and the uranium found in Benard’s water. 

“According to our expert, no cause-and-effect relation is demonstrated between blasting and uranium in water,” wrote Grenier in an email. “The uranium is naturally found within the Canadian Shield and is not uncommon in the Outaouais region.”

When asked what can be done to help residents like Benard, Grenier pointed to the municipality’s webpage that has information about water tests. She also said the municipality routinely encourages residents to test for bacteria twice a year and to conduct a “physico-chemical” test, which would reveal things like uranium and lead, once a year. 

The municipality used to have a water-testing program, where residents could easily drop off water samples and the municipality would send them out for tests. 

But amid budget cuts, the water testing program was cut this year.  Grenier noted that, “well owners are responsible to make sure their well water is safe to drink.”

Benard told the Low Down that when she moved into Chelsea last year, the first thing she did was follow the municipality’s guidelines for water testing on its website. 

But, she says, at the time there was no information about conducting a physio-chemical test – only information about the bacteria tests. 

Grenier told the Low Down the information has been available on the website since at least 2022, if not earlier. 

According to Health Canada, exposure to high levels of uranium in drinking water for a long period of time could affect a person’s kidneys and bones. 

However, the federal health agency says that, “Exposure to uranium in drinking water for a short time should not have a negative impact” on health.

Pregnant women can pass uranium to the fetus during pregnancy, while mothers can pass it to their newborns through breastfeeding. Health Canada recommends using an alternate water source, such as bottled water, or installing a treatment unit, as Benard did. 

For Benard, she’s happy she’s finally able to drink her tap water, but she worries about potential damage already done to her body. 

She no longer feels that her Chelsea home is as “Environmentally Friendly,” as Chelsea’s municipal slogan says it is. 

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