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Remembering Elmira’s water crisis

It has now been 20 years since those frightening days when Elmira residents learned that their water was contaminated with a number of known carcinogens.

There were days when no one in Elmira knew what NDMA was, let alone chlorobenzene, or even DNAPL (for those not yet in the know, that’s dense, non-aqueous liquid, an indicator that the surrounding area is contaminated with some sort of noxious chemical).

Now, 20 years later, many of the residents who came to the forefront to advocate on behalf of the community are still at it.

Susan Bryant and Al Marshall, in particular, are to be praised for their longevity and perseverance. Over the last two decades, they have educated themselves on such varied topics as the hydrogeology under the town of Elmira, as well as the confusing array of chemicals found in the groundwater underneath our town.

They, and other volunteer citizens have read technical reports, questioned authorities, and have collected air samples during the worst of Chemtura’s “bad air days.”

In short, they have dedicated a good portion of the last two decades of their lives in trying to get this town back to where it was, before historic dumping practices were prohibited.

And, in reality, this town will likely never be the same. As reported in this weekend’s coverage of the 20-year anniversary, Chemtura is a “saturated, contaminated site.”

But, without the work of activists such as Bryant, Marshall, as well as Rich Clausi, Henry Regier (an Order of Canada member), and the late Esther Thur, who lovingly maintained newspaper clippings that have served as the basis of research for many university and high school students over the years, Elmira would be much further away from having its drinking water restored.

Whether the 2028 deadline is going to be reached is anyone’s guess. But if it isn’t, we won’t have these, and other activists to blame.

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