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Using GPS trackers to fight toxic soil dumping

As reported by the CBC News and the Montreal Gazette, the Province of Quebec and the City of Montreal are joining forces to try to crack down on a possible link between organized crime and the dumping of contaminated soil on agricultural land.

The solution? A GPS system that can track where toxic soil is — and isn’t — being dumped.

According to the province, there are about two million metric tonnes of contaminated soil to be disposed of every year.

Toxic soil is supposed to be dumped on designated sites at treatment centres. But the Sûreté du Québec has confirmed it believes members of organized crime have been dumping soil from contaminated excavation sites onto farmland.

Quebec Provincial police confirm they are investigating a possible link between organized crime and the dumping of contaminated soil.

“It’s a constant battle. The city and all municipalities have to be very vigilant about any types of possible corruption,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

“What we are talking about today supports a solution, but again, we always have to be proactive.”

The new pilot project, called Traces Québec, is set to launch in May. Companies would have to register for the web platform, which can track in real time where soil is being transported — from the time it leaves a contaminated site to the time it’s disposed of.

Some environmentalists say they’re concerned about the impact the toxic soil has had on agricultural land where it’s been dumped. They’re also uncertain about how a computerized tracking system will put an end to corruption and collusion.

“Right now, there’s no environmental police force in Quebec so there have been investigations into these toxic soils being dumped but unfortunately nobody’s been held accountable yet,” said Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Quebec Green Party.

“There’s really a lack of a coherent strategy for how Quebec is going to decontaminate all of these different toxic sites all over the province. There’s no announcement of any new money.”

The city and the province say this is a first step at addressing the issue and more announcements will be on the way in the coming months.

The pilot project — a joint effort with the city of Montreal — will test a system, known as Traces Québec, that uses GPS and other technologies to track contaminated soil. The first test case will involve a city plan to turn a former municipal yard in Outremont into a 1.7-hectare park. Work is to start in the fall.  All bidders on the project will have to agree to use the Traces Québec system.

Using the system, an official cargo document is created that includes the soil’s origin and destination and its level of contamination. Trucks are equipped with GPS chips that allow officials to trace the route from pickup to drop-off.

Mayor Valérie Plante said the pilot project is “a concrete response to a concrete problem.”

She said she wants to protect construction workers and residents by ensuring contaminated soil is disposed of properly. The city also wants to make sure the money it spends on decontamination is going to companies that disposed of soil safely and legally.

“Municipalities have to be very vigilant about any types of possible corruption,” she said. “We know there are cracks in the system and some people have decided to use them and it’s not acceptable.”

Plante said Montreal will study the results of the pilot project before deciding whether to make the system mandatory on all city projects.

The Traces Québec system was developed by Réseau Environnement, a non-profit group that represents 2,700 environmental experts.

Pierre Lacroix, president of the group, said today some scofflaws dispose of contaminated soil illegally at a very low cost by producing false documents and colluding with other companies to circumvent laws.

He said the Traces Québec system was tested on a few construction sites to ensure it is robust and can’t be circumvented. “We will have the truck’s licence plate number, there will be GPS tracking, trucks will be weighed,” Lacroix said.

“If the truck, for example, doesn’t take the agreed-upon route, the software will send an alert and we’ll be able to say, ‘Why did you drive that extra kilometre and why did it take you an extra 15 minutes to reach your destination?’”

Organized crime can be creative in finding new ways to avoid detection and Lacroix admitted “no system is perfect.”

But he noted that “at the moment, it’s anything goes, there are no controls. Technology today can help take big, big, big steps” toward thwarting criminals.

With files from CBC reporter Sudha Krishnan

How the GPS tracking system will work

Tracing Contaminated Soil in Quebec

As reported in LaPresse, the Quebec Environment Minister, Isabelle Melancon, recently announced that the Quebec government will soon begin a pilot project to improve the “traceability” of contaminated soil from construction sites.

An earlier story in LaPresse stated the provincial authorities lost track of 3,000 tonnes of contaminated soil from a the Baril School in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.  Management of the soil had been taken over by the company of a former Hell’s Angels partner, OFA Environment Management.

Remediation work at the Baril Elementary School in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Montreal

Soils were to be shipped to a Quebec-based company, accredited by the Quebec Ministry of the Environment. Instead, they were moved to another company with the same name, but located near East Hawkesbury, Ontario.  The firm apparently operated from a place that does not have an address.

There is no prohibition on shipping contaminated soil to Ontario, where the rules governing their treatment are less stringent than in Quebec. But in the case of the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve school, the contract specified that the floors were to be arranged in accordance with the Quebec law, according to the company in charge of supervising the construction site.

“We can not pretend that nothing is happening,” said Melançon at the end of a meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Last fall, La Presse revealed that “highly contaminated” soils had been dumped illegally on the banks of the Achigan River in Sainte-Sophie, in the Laurentians.

“[You have to] know where it’s going, what happened,” said the minister.  “We have to follow the soil better because, as we can see, this is the second horror story I am confronted with. ”

Quebec is currently in talks with potential suppliers to set up a “traceability” program. The pilot project should be launched shortly.

New Canadian Soil Quality Guidelines for Methanol

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) recently published an updated the Canadian Soil Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Environmental and Human Health: Methanol.

Canadian environmental quality guidelines are numerical concentrations or narrative statements recommended to provide a healthy, functioning ecosystem capable of sustaining the existing and likely future uses of the site by ecological receptors and humans.  Canadian soil quality guidelines can be used as the basis for consistent assessment and remediation of contaminated sites in Canada. The guidelines in the report were derived according to procedures described in A Protocol for the Derivation of Environmental and Human Health Soil Quality Guidelines (CCME 2006).  According to this protocol, both environmental and human health soil quality guidelines are developed and the lowest value generated from the two approaches for each of the four land uses is recommended by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) as the Canadian Soil Quality Guidelines (CCME 2006).

Sufficient data were available to develop soil quality guidelines for methanol protective of human health, in accordance with the soil protocol.  The human health soil quality guidelines for methanol are 4.6 mg/kg for coarse soil and 5.6 mg/kg for fine soil for all four land uses.  Human health soil quality guidelines were calculated for soil ingestion, inhalation of indoor air, and protection of groundwater for drinking water. The limiting pathway in the calculation of human health guidelines was drinking water.

Sufficient data were available to develop soil quality guidelines for methanol protective of environmental health, in accordance with the soil protocol.  The environmental health soil quality guidelines for methanol are: 7.7 mg/kg for coarse soil and 190 mg/kg for fine soil for all four land uses. Environmental health soil quality guidelines were calculated for ecological direct contact and protection of groundwater for aquatic life.  The limiting pathway in the calculation of environmental health guidelines was aquatic life.  Since it was possible to calculate both human health and environmental soil quality guidelines for methanol, the overall methanol soil quality guidelines are the lower of the two, which are 4.6 mg/kg for coarse soil and 5.6 mg/kg for fine soil for all four land uses.

Victoria, B.C. faces Major Bill to Clean up Contaminated Park

As reported in Victoria News, Laurel Point Park is contaminated and the City of Victoria is looking at a potential $5-million bill to clean it up.

The City will spend up to $350,000 to confirm the degree of contamination and create a remediation plan.

The park, located along the David Foster Harbour Pathway next to property owned by Transport Canada, is contaminated with high levels of metal and petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil and groundwater, according to a staff report presented to council last week. Chemical discharges from nearby property likely contaminated the aquatic environment, water and the soil because of area’s industrial past, the report stated.

Laurel Point Park, Victoria, B.C.

For now, there is little risk to the public.  Counsellor Chris Coleman said the contamination is capped and secured, as long as it is left alone.

“If there was (a risk to the public), then we would close the park,” he said.

“It’s the sort of thing that we’ve seen in the past, when there was leeching from the Hartland Road landfill,” Coleman added. “It went into the groundwater … it then caused an algal bloom in the Butchart Gardens. That’s what you’re trying to control for here.”

The park, and the surrounding lands on the Laurel Point peninsula, were burial grounds for the Songhees people prior to 1885, after which it was used by various industrial facilities, including paint factories, machine shops, and for processing coal and oil.

Victoria council approved the next stage of SLR Consulting’s environmental investigation using money from the environmental remediation funds in city’s financial plan for 2017.

The next step in the process is a risk assessment, with an estimated cost of up to $150,000. It will take an additional $50,000 for the remediation plan, and up to $5 million to put the plan into action.

The surrounding land owned by Transport Canada will also have to be excavated and disposed off-site, according to preliminary reports.

Former B.C. Environment Minister Sued for Shutting Contaminated Soil Landfill

As reported in the Vancouver Sun, The owner of a Shawnigan Lake quarry that was used as a landfill for contaminated soil is suing the provincial government and the former minister who ordered it shut down.

Cobble Hill Holdings Ltd. recently filed suit in B.C. Supreme Court against the Province of British Columbia and Mary Polak, who was the B.C. Liberal environment minister and is still the MLA for Langley.

(Image: Shawnigan Lake, Canada. 6 Dec 2015. The containment system currently employed at the
SIA/SIRM Contaminated-Soil dumpsite, designed to prevent contaminants from travelling
into the Shawnigan Lake watershed. c Laura Colpitts)

The company said it is seeking general damages, special damages, aggravated damages, punitive damages, special costs and any other relief as the court “may deem fit to grant.” No amounts were specified other than “to be assessed.”

No statement of defence has been filed, either by Polak or the province.

In February 2017, while still environment minister, Polak cancelled the permit that allowed Cobble Hill Holdings to receive and store contaminated soil at its former rock quarry upstream of Shawnigan Lake.

Polak said the company had failed to meet a government deadline for an irrevocable letter of credit that would serve as a financial security.

In its suit, Cobble Hill Holdings says the government had not specified any form or amount for that credit, and had not approved the plans that would have been the basis of the financial guarantee.

The company’s operating permit, issued in 2013, had been suspended in January when the Environment Ministry asked for the financial security as well as a closure plan, including a cost estimate, and water management review reports.

Cobble Hill Holdings said it submitted updated plans to the ministry for approval on Feb. 20. Three days later, its permit was cancelled.

As a result, the suit says, the land is contaminated and Cobble Hill Holdings has suffered financial damages.

Cobble Hill Holdings had decided to lease the lands to South Island Resource Management and notified the ministry that that company would be the primary operator of the permit, the suit says.

Cancellation of the permit resulted in the termination of the lease, which had required South Island Resource Management to pay Cobble Hill Holdings $50,000 a month.

The permit issued in 2013 allowed Cobble Hill Holdings to receive and store up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year at its quarry.

It was upheld by the Environmental Appeal Board in 2015, but faced multiple court challenges before it was cancelled in February.

Much of the contaminated soil was from construction sites in Greater Victoria.

Shawnigan Lake residents expressed concern about contaminants leaching into their water supply, and packed open houses to voice opposition.

Demonstrators at the landfill were arrested for blocking trucks delivering the soil. They also went to the legislature to complain to the government.

Polak said repeatedly that the issue was a matter between the company, Environment Ministry technicians and the courts.

When the permit was cancelled in February, the government stressed the decision had nothing to do with any pollution detected or any legal issue being contended.

“To be clear, the permit was not cancelled due to pollution occurring, nor was it directly related to anything before the courts,” the Environment Ministry said in a statement.

“The decision was made on the principle of escalating enforcement and repeated failure by the company to meet deadlines and comply with permit requirements.”