A New Brunswick cabinet minister says he’s losing sleep over reports that four residents in his district are suffering from arsenic contamination and the source has yet to be found.
Human Resources Minister Rick Brewer, the member for Southwest-Miramichi, says he’s worried for the residents of Blackville, which is about 130 kilometres northeast of Fredericton.
The four people live within 30 metres of each other.
Brewer said he has spent a few late nights on the phone with Health Minister Mike Murphy, and he stressed the province is working hard to resolve the situation.
“I’ve actually been losing sleep over this because I’m concerned about the people who live in this area,” he said. “It’s definitely my top priority to put these people’s minds at ease.”
But some residents are criticizing the provincial Health Department for not releasing a public advisory about the problem sooner.
Murphy declined to comment on that issue.
Blackville Mayor Glen Hollowood said his phone has been ringing off the hook because people are worried.
“But it’s too bad if this arsenic (has been) in the area for a long time and nobody checked,” he said. “Maybe people have been dying of that for years. We don’t know.”
Blackville Councillor Jake Stewart said he believes the province is trying to downplay concerns.
“The (news) releases are using a lot of words like ‘limited,’ ‘normal,’ ‘minuscule’ and ‘reliability’ to try to sway the public’s awareness of the severity of the issue,” he said.
“They actually went as far to suggest that so far no water tests have produced results. But there’s only been one or two tests (analyzed so far).”
About 30 well water samples were taken earlier this week.
Stewart said residents are asking him when the testing will be expanded to include the rest of the community.
“While the government bides time doing the most basic testing, they’re probably saving money when they should be saving lives,” he said.
Stewart said there’s a history of unexplained illnesses among young children who live in the area.
Dr. Denis Allard, regional medical officer of health, said the community shouldn’t link every physical problem to the arsenic contamination.
“I would say it’s probably very unlikely (those illnesses are related),” he said.
“Out of the four cases, I believe there’s only one that seems to have some symptoms that could possibly be attributed to his high arsenic level.”