Montreal’s Electric Train Project could derail Contaminated Site Clean-up

As reported in the Montreal Gazette, the planned $5.9 billion (Cdn.) electric train project could interfere with proposed clean-up of a contaminated site along the St. Lawrence River.  Daniel Green, an environmental activist who is also running for the Green Party in the federal by-election in the St. Laurent riding, contends that the Pointe-St-Charles area of the City is one of the most contaminated sites in the Province of Quebec.  A tunnel is proposed through the Pointe-St-Charles neighbourhood as part of the electric train project.

Historically, the edge of the Pointe-St-Charles was a wetland, home to thousands of geese.  But between 1866 and 1966, household and industrial waste began to be dumped into the swamp. Between the 1930s and ’50s, dikes were built and the dump expanded right into the river, filling in part of the passage between Pointe-Saint-Charles and Nun’s Island.

2008 report by the Commission on Environmental Cooperation estimated the Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood, also referred to as the Technoparc sector, contains 4 to 8 million litres of diesel fuel mixed with other substances, “enough to fill about three Olympic-size swimming pools.” It also contains an estimated 1-2 tons of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).  Diesel fuel, which acts as a solvent, has accelerated the release of PCBs into the environment, the report said.

Mr. Green claims that digging a tunnel through the contaminated land in the Technoparc sector will disturb toxic chemicals in the sediment at the site that will then flow into the St. Lawrence River.

“It’s one of the worst hazardous waste sites in Quebec,” said Green, co-president of the Société pour vaincre la pollution (SVP), an Quebec-based environmental group.  Digging a tunnel in such a toxic environment is a risky and costly enterprise that could endanger current efforts to contain and clean up the contamination, he said.  “By just building the tunnel, it will change the approach of containment,” he added.

The proposed tunnel for the e-train is five kilometres long and will run from the southern tip of Pointe-St-Charles to south of Central Station in Griffintown in Montreal.  About 500 metres will run through the contaminated site, Green said.

A spokesperson for the company responsible for the rail project, Jean-François Lacroix from CPDQ Infra, refutes Mr. Green’s concern.  “We’ve been working hand-in-hand with the city for more than a year.  We are co-ordinating the two projects,” Mr. Lacroix stated.  The company will ensure measures to mitigate risk and respect environmental norms will be taken to prevent contamination of the St. Lawrence River said Mr. Lacroix.

In the summer of 2016, a plan to address contamination at the Point-Saint-Charles neighbourhood was announced by the federal, provincial and municipal governments.  The plan called for the construction of a retaining wall to intercept contaminated groundwater and a system for treatment. It was estimated the system would need to be in place for the 25 years and cost more than $100 million.

In an interview with CBC, Alfred Jaouich, a professor in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences at L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), says he is in favour of the train, but that everyone involved will have to be very careful.  He says the rock underneath is not stable and could crack, meaning contamination could easily spread.

The City of Montreal has been working on cleaning up the site for 25 years.  City officials hold that view that any company hoping to work there will have to respect the provincial laws in place, and that includes CDPQ Infra.

Green said fuels and heavy metals on the site, long the location of one of Canada’s largest rail yards, have been leaking into the river for decades. In the 1960s, industries dumped toxic landfill on former marshland there, which was used as the main parking lot for Expo 67.

A 2008 report by the Commission on Environmental Cooperation estimated the Technoparc contains 4 to 8 million litres of diesel fuel mixed with other substances, “enough to fill about three Olympic-size swimming pools.” It also contains an estimated 1-2 tons of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Diesel fuel, which acts as a solvent, has accelerated the release of PCBs into the environment, the report said.

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