Calumet mine restoration near complete but water troubles continue

Added: Wed, 10/11/2017 - 11:03pm
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Allyson Beauregard

ILE-DU-GRAND-CALUMET – The restoration of the abandoned Calumet mine by the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) is 99% complete but surrounding residences are still experiencing water contamination related to the mine.
Four residences were originally faced with wells contaminated with cadmium before the restoration work started; owners were aware of the contamination and did not use their water for consumption. However, the MNR dug a new, deeper well for one resident, Donald Scully, in exchange for a right of passage through his property.  Kevin White, another property owner, shares a contaminated well with his neighbour and the remaining well belongs to the mine’s owner.
Ministry not responsible
“The residences are located downstream from the mine tailings, a former underground mine, and a mineralogical zone rich in metals,” said Sylvain Carrier, MNR Communications Director, who noted the MNR is not obliged to ensure potable drinking water.
“However, after discussions with Outaouais Public Health and the Ministry of
the Environment, the MNR decided to perform tests to see if the water quality could be improved; they tested various depths to see if an uncontaminated aquifer exists,” he added. White claims the issue was only looked into after he consistently complained to the MNR about his water quality.
Test results
A test taken from White’s well in November 2013 presented 13.6 g/L of cadmium, which does not respect Quebec’s criteria for potable water. Since then, numerous other tests have been done.
According to Carrier, potable water was found between 53 and 106 feet, although it did have low levels of iron (0.244 mg/L). In November 2016, the MNR worked to isolate this aquifer, which was at first successful. However, the iron content continued to increase despite interventions.
“Iron is not a criteria for potable water, it’s solely aesthetic. However, after a certain concentration, the water’s colour, taste and odour can be altered and it can cause stains,” explained Carrier, who said the MNR and the property owners decided
to return to the original wells this summer, because although contaminated with cadmium, it was more suitable for bathing, dishes and laundry. The iron content in this aquifer has also since increased. Further sampling was done and a hydrologist reviewed the situation. 
Is a new well the solution?
Although White is convinced a deeper well will solve the problem, Carrier isn’t, given that iron concentration seems to increase with depth. “We tested the water up to 163 feet; the iron concentration was 84mg/L. The tests and hydrologist analysis indicate that the probability of obtaining potable water from a well in this area is very low,” he told the Journal.
However, according to Scully, his new 280 foot well provides good drinking water that passes all government tests. Scully said he notices a slight smell from the water, but is unaware if it is caused by sulphur, iron or something else. He could not say if new, deeper wells would work for the other residences.
White is adamant: “I requested a much deeper well, but they insist on playing with the existing one. The water is constantly changing. They had pros in from Cornwall who said not to play with the old well and to drill a new one with at least 100 feet of casing, but they ignored the advice. Meanwhile, it’s costing me $1,000 dollars a year to buy drinking water,” he said.  White firmly believes the water problems should be rectified as part of the mine’s restoration, especially since the residences used to be part of the mining operation as homes for the managers.
“It’s sad that they can spend $1.1 million to clean an abandoned mine, but not invest in giving us proper drinking water,” concluded White.  His neighbour did not respond to the Journal’s inquiries.