Prof. Joe Cummins name was well known to me. As a journalist in London, I was aware of his environmental work, particularly his fight to educate people about the dangers of PCBs. He was often in the news as he drew attention to a PCB dump site at a transformer plant in London.
I admired him as he stood up to big companies who tried to paint him in a less than flattering light.
Joe didn’t care – and I call him Joe because he signed his notes to me as Joe – as he knew somebody had to stand strong.
Joe passed away on January 8 here in London after an illness.
I first met Joe in 2012 in line at a visitation for my former colleague at The London Free Press, Peter Geigen-Miller. Another colleague introduced us and asked if I knew who Joe Cummins was. I said, “Of course, I do.”
He smiled and shook my hand, but didn’t have any need to call attention to himself. He was there to pay respects to Peter, who wrote about environment issues for The Free Press and had cause to often write about Joe.
About a year later, I sat down with Joe to write a story about his latest campaign to protect the environment and his fellow man. He was approaching 80 at this time, but was still so passionate and so caring.
His health was failing and his voice was raspy and weak. It was hard to hear him at times.
But what he was telling me was so important. Joe was calling attention to pharmaceuticals in the Great Lakes.
He was taking on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and wanted answers about contaminated drinking water.
He wanted the MOE to make public the 17 sampling sites where tests were conducted on drinking that contained pharmaceuticals, hormones and bisphenol A. His own drinking water at his London townhouse contained some of these pharmaceuticals, he had learned.
When he found out his water contained the antibiotic erythromycin he was particularly concerned because of his allergy to this drug. Joe’s water was from the Elgin Area Water Supply System, which treats Lake Erie water.
I wrote a story about this that was published by the U.K.’s Global Development Observer.
For my article I asked the MOE why the water sample sites were not made public. The ministry sent me a statement saying that the study was a voluntary survey. “The ministry is committed to keeping the identity of participating municipal water systems anonymous. The results show that the quality of their drinking water is good.”
When the MOE refuses to say where the water was tested, that raised red flags and Joe was the first to jump on that.
The MOE report was published in the journal Science of the Total Environment and Cummins chastised the journal for failing to involve the full details of the study, namely the sample sites. “This is a serious abuse of scientific reporting which will allow bureaucrats and politicians to control and decide how and which data are to be used”, he said.
Joe travelled to London, England in 2013 to discuss the issue of pharmaceuticals in drinking water.
He continued to keep me apprised of his work and his latest messages were about his questions to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over tomato juice produced in southwestern Ontario that he maintained was never properly approved for commercial production.
I will miss Joe Cummins – his courage, conviction and conscience. And I feel more vulnerable without his eyes on those who abuse the environment.