Photo: Researchers speculate that U.S. Steel’s high-capacity blast furnaces are the source of the Windsor Hum, and the maddening noise coincides with the appearance of bright blue flames on Zug Island’s exhaust stacks. Photo of U.S. Steel’s imposing industrial complex by Rod Denis.
Ghostly Hum Becoming Part Of Windsor’s Culture
By Alan Halberstadt
Two Canadian government tests have pointed the finger at Zug Island, and more specifically U.S. Steel Corp., as the source of the infamous “Windsor Hum” which is back in the news again and raising a question on why nobody has started a class action suit against the alleged perpetrators.
The Hum has gained global infamy over the last seven years since the August day in 2011 when former Windsor City Councillor Al Maghnieh became a believer in the Hum he was hearing about from South Windsor constituents.
He was leaving his home at 2 a.m. There were no cars on the road, no other sounds. But there it was.
“It was a low bass frequency,” Maghnieh related in a recent interview. “I could feel the vibration. I said to myself: ‘This is absolutely real.’”
When the rookie Councillor reported the Hum to the provincial ministries of the environment and transportation and received “the old ping pong treatment,” he went to his Twitter account and officially introduced the existence of the Hum.
Over the next six months the Windsor Hum started evolving as a social media sensation, dwarfing such events as the recent FINA swim championships in terms of putting Windsor on the map.
Over the years, critiques of the Windsor Hum have appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail, National Post, The Wall Street Journal, Maclean’s and generally media from all over the globe.
In early 2012, with public pressure unrelenting, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (OME), the Canadian Ministry of National Resources and Earthquakes Canada teamed up to quietly install seismic receptors all across the city.
In the summer of 2012, the OME announced the results to 250 people at the South Windsor Arena, including Michael Boulder, the Mayor of River Rouge, the city that houses Zug Island.
A three page OME report identified the vibrations, concluding they triangulated an area around Brighton Beach in west Windsor and LaSalle, directly across from the 1.32 square-mile industrial island little more than a stone’s throw away from the Windsor shoreline.
Maghnieh says he subsequently paid $8,000 out of his own pocket to conduct a telephone town hall meeting in October of 2012, which attracted 22,000 listeners. The federal government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally became involved and commissioned a $20,000 study co-led by University of Windsor acoustics expert Dr. Colin Novak.
That 100 page study basically drew the same conclusions, which were released by Essex Conservative MP Jeff Watson, in May of 2014. By then, Strosberg, Sasso, Sutts LLP Lawyer David Robins was very much involved.
Like Maghnieh, Robins, a South Windsor resident, became active when he heard the Hum himself. He compared the noise to a couple of Mack trucks idling, or the deep bass at a kids’ electric guitar party.
“I could feel the vibrations coursing through my body,” Robins states.
The frustrating part of all this is the inconsistency. The Hum comes and it goes. The intensity heightens and wanes.
The latest episode indicates a rumbling thunder noise has spread, to Amherstburg, McGregor and as far away as Cleveland.
Watson’s successor, NDP Tracey Ramsey, posed this question in the House of Commons on December 8 of last year: “Over the last few weeks, people have reported the Hum to be louder, shaking homes, affecting sleep, creating earaches and headaches. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to answer. The Hum continues to negatively affect the health of my constituents in Essex and people in Windsor. They deserve answers.”
The Deputy to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told Ramsey that the Liberal government, elected in October of 2015, is well aware of the issue, has engaged American Foreign Affairs officials and will continue to work to find a solution.
Yada. Yada. Yada. They have been saying that for two years in correspondence with veteran NDP Windsor West MP Brian Masse, who received a letter on March 1, 2016 from former Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion saying that Canadian officials had met with officials from River Rouge and U.S. Steel.
Robins and Maghnieh, who was voted off City Council in 2014 following a controversy over library credit cards, attribute the Hum’s irregularity to weather patterns. Windsor gets the brunt of the Hum because the prevailing winds are southeast. Noise carries well over water. Heavy cloud cover and humidity are also catalysts.
Lead researcher Novak, while identifying the source as Zug Island, insists he can’t determine the precise location without getting access to the U.S. Steel blast furnaces suspected to be the culprits. There are other heavy industries on the island, although nothing else can produce a low frequency sound like the Hum other than a blast furnace.
During testing, audio equipment was carried on a boat to within 50 metres of the shore, but American officials were steadfast in disallowing access. They remain so today.
Novak remembers a 2014 meeting at the Canadian Consulate in Detroit attended by U.S. representatives and a consultant representing River Rouge. The meeting ended amiably, but there has been no movement from the Americans since.The Mayor of River Rouge terminated badgering from Maghnieh in 2014 by telling him “the only noise was coming from politicians across the river.”
I have had no better luck. The River Rouge Mayor’s office referred me to City Attorney David Bower, who twice spoke briefly by phone to me, then failed to respond to multiple ensuing entreaties for information.
I had to create a password code called ethics-point to register questions to U.S. Steel, and received a common response to media, big and small, from the ultra-secretive conglomerate: “The organization does not have any questions or comments at this time.”
I asked Robins, son in law of legendary class action Lawyer Harvey Strosberg , why his firm doesn’t undertake a class action suit, and perhaps get a court order to examine U.S. Steel’s facilities.
“My firm is not adverse to taking on risky lawsuits against corporate giants but we are smart and do our due diligence first,” Robins says. “In class actions the lawyers typically undertake to indemnify plaintiffs in the event of an adverse cost award. For that reason, class actions differ from ordinary litigation in that they are costly and thus not conducive to the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach.”
He continues, “I would not want to wait until discovery to receive documents that perhaps could prove that U.S. Steel isn’t liable after all. By that time, we are years away and knee deep. I am a litigator but I see the practicality of trying to push for a diplomatic resolution if we could find motivated politicians. It would be the speedier and perhaps the more effective approach.”
Maghnieh is pessimistic that Canadian officials are going to pry open the door to Zug Island when other priorities such as renegotiating NAFTA, duties on steel and aluminum and building a new bridge far overshadow the Windsor Hum.
Zug Island is locked down tight by Homeland Security. Maghnieh attempted to visit the island with Boulder four years ago and was turned back by armed guards. But even he is reluctant to state with certainty that U.S. Steel is the Hum exporter.
“U.S. Steel has very deep pockets and they could sue me upside down and sideways,” he muses. “I’ve been bankrupt once and I don’t want to go through that again.”
Social media mavens have raised the spectre that the Zug Island steel mill is irregularly used to build war tanks, and speculate that U.S. Steel harbours a covert underground military operation.
Google “The Mysterious Case of The Windsor Hum” and you will find two compelling videos (one by Josh Ledore and the other by Justin Ling of HBO) that draw you into popular conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, Maghnieh believes the Windsor Hum is here to stay. “People will resign themselves to the fact that it comes and goes and accept that it’s a part of Windsor’s Culture,” he predicts.