Residents near Smith Falls, Ontario, were forced to shut off their water for more than two weeks when a nearby fire caused benzene to leach into the groundwater.
On Nov. 6, the popular flea market, Rideau Valley Market, near Smith Falls, Ontario, went up in flames. Firefighters responded promptly and kept the fire from spreading, but the chemicals from the burned materials released benzene into the groundwater. Residents near the site of the fire were forced to avoid drinking and coming in contact with tap water for more than two weeks due to contamination.
“Which means that if you turn the water on, the benzene that’s in the water will become aerosolized,” says Dr. Paula Stewart, Medical Officer with the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit. “You will breathe it and it can get on the skin.”
Gail Read, one of the residents affected, says going without water was difficult. “In this situation we’ve got a 4-year-old child, and we have a pregnant mom. Dad is a welder and there’s no shower. There are no laundry facilities,” said Read. “The wells need to be treated. We need to get back to the good country water that we had here.”
Benzene is a known carcinogen that has been linked to life-threatening diseases such as Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and Aplastic Anemia. It is a chemical widely used in a number of industries and products.
The most common pathway to exposure is inhalation, but benzene can also enter the body and the bloodstream through skin contact. Once the chemical reaches the bloodstream, benzene affects the bone marrow and blood forming cells, which damages white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets over time.