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Chemical spill could be cause of stinky water in Puslinch, Ont., new report says

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People living in Puslinch, Ont. may have the answer to why their water smelled so bad last year.

“It was putrid. It was like rotten vegetables, it was disgusting,” said Jacqueline Fell, who lives along the affected area of Highway 6.

She’s among several residents who noticed something was off with their water in July 2023.

“It took a while to get someone to pay attention because when people think about private well water they think, ‘Well, you just need a treatment system or you need to do your own testing. It’s up to you,’” said Fell.

Residents continued to push Township of Puslinch staff about the issue and eventually the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) was called in to clean up a ditch along Highway 6 and investigate. The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) also investigated.

“[They said] ‘do your own testing. Everything’s kind of naturally occurring.’ They didn’t give us any recommendations or any explanation why it happened,” said Fell.

Residents weren’t pleased with the lack of answers so they asked township council for further investigation. The township hired consultant Harden Environmental Services Ltd.

They found the smell was caused by “a chemical spill of an unknown substance.” The report also says Harden “does not interpret the identified odour-causing compounds as naturally occurring.”

That contradicts what residents were told by the MTO and MECP last year.

“We weren’t crazy,” said Fell. “So this report is validating. But at the same time disappointing that we’re just getting it now almost a year later.”

Fell says she only got the Harden report in the mail on Thursday.

The reason is because despite the report being dated January 2024, a spokesperson for the township said it is prudent for them to review with the MECP given their authority over such matters and given the MECP responded to the initial complaints.

“After the Township concluded its investigation, the Township submitted its findings to the MECP for review and the MECP requested that their review take place prior to releasing information to the affected residents,” said Puslinch interim CAO Courtenay Hoytfox, in an email.

CTV News asked the MECP about Harden’s findings, which they do not agree with.

“The ministry’s technical staff have reviewed the information and opinions contained in Harden’s draft report and found there is no substantive evidence linking the odours in some private wells to an alleged roadside spill,” an email from MECP spokesperson Lindsay Davidson, said in part.

For Fell, the situation is eerily similar to an experience when she was 13 years old.

At the time, she was living in Walkerton, Ont. where she grew up. The town’s municipal water supply was contaminated with E. coli, which left seven people dead and more than 2,000 people sick – including her.

“I’m all too familiar with the devastating effects of lack of transparency when it comes to the health and safety of tap water. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve drank water from the tap. This incident has kind of validated why,” she said.

Residents say they were made aware earlier this week that the township might send the samples to California for further testing.

With many questions still unanswered, affected residents hope to get more clarity on May 23 at a meeting with township staff.

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