Potential water contamination after flea market fire has left one family desperate

By Evelyn Harford, originally posted on November 10, 2016


Chelsea Metcalfe and her family live across the street from the Rideau Valley Marketplace and Liquidation Outlet fire site. They have faced serious fallout after the fire, which left the flea market in ruins on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016.

Metcalfe and approximately nine other neighbours were hand-delivered “ do not drink” advisories Monday afternoon by the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, which advised them not to consume or drink their water. The health unit was alerted by Metcalfe and another neighbour about potential water quality issues.

Metcalfe said she noticed something was off with her water after she made coffee with it Monday morning.

“It smells like opening a bottle of cleaner,” she said. “It’s really unreal.”

After Metcalfe said she consumed two cups of the coffee made from her well water, she said her throat and tongue burned and left them tingly and sore for about 24 hours.

“It felt like waking up from surgery,” she said.

Those symptoms made Metcalfe concerned enough that she went to the hospital on Tuesday after advice from the health unit and the province’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

None of her other family members ingested the water.

Metcalfe said ministry representatives advised her that she shouldn’t drink, consume or bathe in the water after they came to her home and were shown a sample of her water.

The ministry was in the area on Monday evening and Tuesday collecting water samples from the affected homes. Water testing will assess whether or not the water is contaminated.

Metcalfe said with how her water is right now she believes the tests will surely come back positive for some type of contamination stemming from the fire.

Before the fire, Metcalfe said her family had beautiful water – now, she said, not so much.

“It’s pretty scary,” she said.

Metcalfe said she fears the entire aquifer has been impacted.

Joan Mays, manager of community health protection at the health unit, told the Record News Wednesday, Nov. 9, that the unit was concerned that if fire fighting foams used to fight the flea market fire could cause contamination to the surrounding ground water.

Greg Saunders, the fire chief of the Drummond/North Elmsley Tay Valley Fire Rescue, confirmed on Thursday morning that fire foam was used to fight the flea market fire on Sunday, but when compared with the amount of water used to tame the blaze – some 757,082 litres – the usage of foam was minimal and necessary.

Saunders said the most likely reason for water contamination if found by the ministry would stem from the contents of the razed flea market.

Metcalfe’s two sons, aged six and nine, are severely autistic and the impact of not being able to drink, consume or bathe in their water has taken a tremendous toll.

Since Monday, the family has relied on bottled water as well as shower and laundry facilities at a local respite centre, a resource that supports her family.

Metcalfe herself has fibromyalgia and said she hasn’t been able to have her warm baths, which helps alleviate her pain.

According to Metcalfe, other residents have continued to bathe in the water and even wash their vegetables.

Metcalfe said she takes these water issues seriously and only uses it to flush the toilet.

The ministry has told the family to keep all their receipts from any bottled water purchases, but Metcalfe said for a family with one income, with severely handicapped children, going out of pocket for bottled water is not sustainable.

She said the ministry should step up to deliver water to the families affected by potential contamination.

Metcalfe said the ministry has labelled their water testing a “high priority,” and she should know the results next week.

“I really hope it’s resolved soon,” she said. “But I’m really not that optimistic.”

Metcalfe said as winter approaches she fears if the ministry needs to fix their wells, the frost could limit their window of opportunity and worries it could be weeks or months before the family is able to use their water again. She and her husband are stressed, Metcalfe said. If they’re unable to use their water the family may lose their home – a place they have saved for ten years to purchase.

And if they have to leave, Metcalfe said they’d likely lose the value of their home because no one will want to buy it if the water is contaminated.

Residents have been told to hang tight until the results of the ministry’s water tests are known – further action will be addressed at that time.

Cindy Halcrow, the clerk administrator for the Township of Drummond/North Elmsley, said the municipality wouldn’t be involved going forward since the water impacted comes from private wells, not municipal water.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has not yet replied for comment.

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