Ferguson not drinking science on Ancaster well’s closure
Councillor vows to push back on new arsenic limit
file photo by Gord Bowes
Ancaster Coun. Lloyd Ferguson says he isn’t ready to support turning the taps off on a popular artesian well near Sulphur Springs Road because the water’s arsenic levels are about double a new provincial limit that takes effect next year.
Hamilton Conservation Authority directors earlier this month tabled a recommendation to close the well’s free water-filling station until their June 1 meeting to allow for his input.
Ferguson said he’d like to see the matter referred to an outside expert or Hamilton’s board of health before any decision.
“I want to challenge the science a little more,” he said of the new arsenic limit of 10 parts per billion.
Twenty-five parts per billion have been around for decades and nobody seems to have got bad health responses as a result of it, and so some new scientist has come along and said we need to reduce it to 10.
According to the authority, the well’s arsenic has consistently ranged from 17 to 23 parts per billion over the past five years, which is within the present limit of 25.
“Twenty-five parts per billion have been around for decades, and nobody seems to have got bad health responses as a result of it, and so some new scientist has come along and said we need to reduce it to 10,” Ferguson said.
The authority’s conservation advisory board and the city’s health department are backing the staff call to close the well based on the new arsenic standard — one adopted 16 years ago by the United States.
Ontario gave notice in December 2015 that the province was moving to the U.S. limit, citing evidence that lifetime arsenic exposure has been linked to increased organ cancers, including of the lungs, liver, bladder and skin.
The new standard mirrors federal guidelines that state that 10 parts per billion “represents the lowest level of arsenic in drinking water that can be technically achieved at reasonable cost, especially for smaller public systems and private wells.”
According to a Health Canada spokesperson, a population of 100,000 people drinking 1.5 litres of water with 10 parts per billion of arsenic for 70 years could expect three to 39 additional lung, bladder or liver cancers when all other factors are excluded.
That compares to an additional eight to 97 cancers drinking water at the present limit of 25 parts per billion.
Those estimated risks are higher than in an authority staff report, which stated a population of 385,000 could expect one additional cancer at 10 parts per billion.
Either way, Matt Hall, director of capital projects and strategic services, has said legal and insurer opinions are advising the authority to abide by the new limit, either by closing the well or treating the water.
Ferguson said he likes the idea, floated by one conservation advisory board member, of simply informing people of the risk and letting them decide whether to drink the water.
He noted the authority already posts a sign warning the water’s sodium is slightly above recommended limits and may pose a risk for people with high blood pressure or congestive heart failure.
Ferguson said one of the reasons people come from all over to use the well is that it isn’t treated with fluoride or chlorine, unlike city tap water.
“To take that away because some scientist thinks that we should lower the level, I need more information on that and I think we need to push back on it, quite frankly,” he said.
“This is something that we can offer to our community, offer to our citizens, that’s free of charge. It’s an artesian well and it doesn’t matter when you go there, somebody’s there getting some water, either in large tanks or a jug or whatever, because they’re just more comfortable with groundwater rather than city water.”