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U.S. steel mill likely source of ‘Windsor Hum’

The skyline of Detroit, Michigan is seen from Windsor, January 4, 2012. A federal study has traced a long-term low-frequency humming noise to a nearby island on the U.S. side of the Detroit River.

REBECCA COOK/REUTERS

A federal study on a mysterious noise that vexes Windsor, Ont., residents has gathered evidence the disturbance is real and is pointing fingers across the Canada-U.S. border at the blast furnaces of an American steel mill.

The problem, though, is the study's two reports released Thursday don't offer Canadians in the country's southernmost city any hope of relief from what locals call the "Windsor Hum," a periodic pulsating, vibrating noise that has bedevilled residents for some time.

The Canadian government says it will take the matter up with the United States, but after years of waiting local civic leaders are losing patience. Residents blame the hum for loss of sleep, headaches, stress and depression.

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"We're talking more than three years of anguish," Windsor city Councillor Al Maghnieh said. "People are sick and tired of this and they will take it out at the ballot box if they have to."

The target of Windsorites' ire is Zug Island, a heavily industrialized patch of land across the Detroit River.

United States Steel operates there, and one of the new reports concludes the Windsor hum does exist and surmises "the likely source of the hum" is the ironmaking facilities on this island. Iron is used to make steel.

Canadian researchers point out they were denied access to the U.S. island and said in one of the reports that they would need to get closer to zero in on the precise source of the disturbance.

Researchers identified "a specific nighttime operation, described as a bright blue flame from several exhaust stacks located on Zug Island, which coincided with observation of the Hum sound," noting these flames were easily visible from the Canadian shoreline.

Conservative MP Jeff Watson, who released the study at a news conference in Windsor, said Ottawa is out of options to pinpoint the hum and said it's up to Americans to take things further.

Ottawa says the study has been provided to U.S. officials, including Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and that the Canadian consul-general in Detroit will push authorities in the state to get to the bottom of the matter.

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"In order to determine the source of the Windsor Hum precisely, further work must also take place on the U.S. side of the river," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development.

Mr. Snyder's office did not return a call requesting comment.

Mr. Maghnieh accused the Americans of delaying action, saying they've been pressed repeatedly on the matter.

"We've all known for years it's coming from Zug Island. We don't need a $60,000, 150-page report telling us that," he said, noting that a 2011 Department of Natural Resources study already demonstrated the likely source is the U.S. steelworks.

A Canadian government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said one explanation for the lack of action by the Americans is Zug Island's location. It is not part of Detroit but a separate municipality, the tiny city of River Rouge, which is strapped for cash and which Canada believes is unwilling to prod its major taxpayer, United States Steel, to deal with the complaint.

Mr. Maghnieh said he still holds out hope that the U.S. might take action. "People aren't crazy. They are not imagining these things. They are hearing these noises," he said. This study "doesn't do anything for the guy who's sitting in his living room at 10 p.m. trying to enjoy some quiet time with his wife while his kids are asleep … or people who are having their houses rattled," the Windsor councillor said.

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NDP MP Brian Masse, who represents a Windsor riding, accused the federal government of not pushing U.S. officials hard enough. "They've had this study since January … We don't have an international agreement that covers noise and vibration," he said. "All their political capital has been spent on trying to get the Keystone XL pipeline approved versus dealing with regular relations."

With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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