Until I got into real estate, I had never heard of the Beckwith Plume, and then I saw it mentioned in a listing. That got me doing a little research. What I found out came as a surprise. I’ve lived in Ottawa since 1990 and I had never heard of it.
The Beckwith Plume is a 45 square kilometre area of contaminated groundwater running from Carleton Place to Black’s Corners.
Trichloroethylene (TCE), a volatile compound used in metal degreasing, was detected in private wells in Black’s Corners in March, 2000 after extensive testing was conducted for a development proposal. TCE is designated as a “toxic substance” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and is considered carcinogenic. Vinyl chloride, another toxin linked to kidney and liver damage, and TCE degraded compounds were also detected in the water.
Over 250 households and businesses, as well as a public school fell within the contaminated area, which became known as the Beckwith Plume. The chemicals are believed to have leached into groundwater from a former landfill site and a privately owned scrap yard on Tenth Line Road. This private dump had accepted waste from the Town of Carleton Place and Beckwith Township between 1966 and 1973. (In 1998, a private well had tested positive for TCE but that was wrongly assumed to be an isolated incident.)
Primarily due to jurisdictional issues over who would have to pay, it was several years before a concerted strategy was developed to ensure the affected residents had potable water. Individual water treatment systems were installed in homes within the area starting in 2008, but these were done voluntarily. Periodic monitoring is still required to determine to determine when the filters in these systems need to be replaced and to confirm that water meets the Ontario Safe Drinking Water Standard.
The Ontario government also conducts an annual groundwater sampling program of the plume boundary. Their most recent report ndicates,“The volatile organic compound plume condition is best described as steady state (not shrinking, not expanding).” So, while some but not all homes have treatment systems, the contamination remains, not getting worse, but not getting better either.
Contaminated groundwater is a latent defect that should be disclosed by the sellers, but I have found that disclosure is not always forthcoming. Sometimes the sellers don’t know, or haven’t informed their agent. I was surprised when I threw out a call on social media to discover that most people had never heard of the Beckwith Plume and had no idea what the term meant.
If you are thinking of buying a house within the Beckwith Plume area, make sure to find out if the sellers have installed the necessary treatment equipment and if those systems have been monitored regularly. Tests for TCE are not part of standard well water testing, which was why it took so long to discover the Beckwith Plume. Do not in any circumstances buy a home in this area without first verifying the potability of the water. Be sure to get a well water inspection; this is not a condition to waive for sure. Buyer beware!