Canadian Water and Wastewater Association eBulletin

Compensation awarded for water contamination, not for alleged resulting illnesses

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On January 18, 2020, the Quebec Court of Appeals widened the scope of a judgment that ordered the federal government and two private companies - Valcartier Real Estate Corporation and General Dynamics - to pay citizens of Shannon, QU, who suffered damage from the contamination of their water supply that some allege, gave them deadly cancer.

In this case, Trichloroethylene (TCE), commonly used as a degreasing agent, was discovered to have leached into the drinking water supply system at the nearby Valcartier base in 1997. Three years later, it was detected in private wells in neighbouring Shannon. Previously, only residents who lived in the "red triangle" - where the TCE levels were found to be the highest - were eligible for compensation. Now, residents who resided in certain areas as early as 1995 and as late as 2006 could be eligible.

The maximum amount claimants can receive in compensation has also increased, from $15,000 to $63,000. But it's a bittersweet victory, says the citizens' group representing Shannon residents. While the court heard one medical analysis that concluded that some residents of the town have a greatly elevated risk of developing cancer of the kidney and liver, as well as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the judges ruled that even if there was a scientific causal link between the TCE contamination and cancer, it did not meet the burden of proof required by the court. That meant the compensation offered was for the contamination itself and not for any illnesses contracted as a result.

"It was recognized that [the defendants] contaminated the water, it's flagrant," said Jean Bernier, a member of the citizens’ group. "But they didn't recognize the causality between the contamination and the cancers." Residents are reportedly considering further legal action.