Clean-up of Mercury at Grassy Narrows First Nation Reserve

The Ontario government recently committed to cleaning up mercury contamination at this is effecting the residents of the Grassy Narrows First Nation Reserve.  The residents have been plagued with mercury poisoning for the past 50 years.

The source of the mercury contamination is a paper mill near Dryden, Ontario.  The mill dumped approximately 9,000 kilograms of mercury in the Wabigoon and English Rivers in the 1960’s.  The site of the paper mill, now under the ownership of Domtar, is about 100 kilometres upstream from the Grassy Narrows Reserve.

Recent testing of fish and river sediments have found that the concentration of mercury in the ecosystem has not decreased in the past 30 years and are still at dangerous levels.  According to researchers, more than 90 percent of the residents of the Grassy Narrows Reserve and the nearby Wabaseemoong First Nation Reserve show signs of mercury poisoning.

“We are completely committed to working with all partners to identify all potentially contaminated sites, and to creating and implementing a comprehensive remediation action plan for the English Wabigoon River,” Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray and Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister David Zimmer said in a statement. “We need to be sure unequivocally if the site is an ongoing source of mercury, and if it is, then we need to work with partners to take all measures to stop further mercury from entering the river.”

Judy Da Silva, the environmental health co-ordinator for Grassy Narrows and a member of its mercury working group, was skeptical but hopeful that the new commitment would lead to action. “To me, when I hear full assessment of the entire mill site and committing to identify and remediation plans, to me it all sounds like words…I’m hoping I’ll live to see the day it is cleaned up”, she said.

As far back as 1984 there was talk by the Ontario government to clean up the mercury contamination in the River System upstream of Grassy Narrows.  However, it was decided to allow for natural attenuation of the mercury contamination.

The cost of cleaning up the mercury contamination from the river system is unknown.  Rough estimates by some put it at $7 million per year for several years.  Part of the remediation plan would be fully assess the extent of the contamination, develop a remediation plan, and implement it.

John Rudd, an expert in mercury is leading the scientific investigation on the extent of mercury contamination.  He is hopeful that the extent of the contamination can be determined over the spring and summer and that remediation can begin in 2018.

Is Alberta Under-reporting Oil Spills?

As reported in The Tyee, a recent study commissioned at the request of a First Nation based in Alberta, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has been inaccurate in reporting on the scale and impact of daily crude oil and salt water spills in the Province.

Kevin Timoney, author of the report and an independent ecologist based in Alberta, reviewed the AER’s spill database and found spills that were not recorded in the database at all, or didn’t include information on volume spilled.

Mr. Timoney also drew his conclusions in the report based on information he found in which the AER routinely reported that 100 per cent of the spilled contaminants had been recovered after pollution events.  Scientific studies he examined had found clean-up rates for spills on land typically recover less than half the oil.

Thirdly, Mr. Timoney questioned the scientific credibility of the AER reporting because it suggested there had been almost no damage to wildlife and animals in Alberta.

As part of his research, Mr. Timoney examined Alberta’s spill database over a 38-year period between 1975 and 2013 and visited major spill sites to gauge the impacts on water, land and plants. In that time period, the oil industry spilled at least 1.6 million barrels  of crude oil and more than five million barrels of salt water onto the land and waterways, according to Mr. Timoney’s analysis of the AER database.

Mr. Timoney found that the AER’s spillage statistics did not reflect the real scale of the problem because of missing data and other issues.  “There are a lot of spills unaccounted for with no volume specified,” said Mr. Timoney.  For example, he found many documented spills that appeared in newspapers aren’t in the database.

The AER database also does not include thousands of spills prior to 1975; spills from federally regulated pipelines; spills reported to Alberta’s environment ministry; or spills that classify oil or salt water as the second or third contaminant.

In addition, the regulator has often reported perfect recovery rates from most spills even though Mr. Timoney could find “no scientific studies” that documented total recovery of spilled oil or saline water on land. Saline spills can be more damaging to plants and vegetation because salts don’t degrade over time.

U.S. Government Environmental Liabilities in excess of $447 Billion

As reported in the District Sentinel, the chief United States federal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), recently warned that the United States government’s environmental liabilities have grown by hundreds of billions of dollars over the past two decades.

In a biannual report about “high risk” problems facing federal agencies, the GAO said that taxpayers were on the hook last year for $447 billion in environmental cleanup costs—up from $217 billion in 1997.

The doubling roughly mirrors the rate of economic growth over the same time frame, but GAO warned that federal environmental liabilities might be much larger than reported.

Their estimate “does not reflect all of the future cleanup responsibilities federal agencies may face,” the report stated.

The U.S. Department of Energy liabilities alone ($372 billion) accounted for 80 percent of the total, and the obligations are “mostly related to nuclear waste cleanup.”  Half of the department’s environmental liabilities themselves come from just two nuclear cleanup sites—one in Washington State and another in South Carolina.

GAO auditors noted they believe that the Department of Agriculture doesn’t have proper “inventory of contaminated and potentially contaminated sites.”

“[I]n particular, [information on] abandoned mines, primarily on Forest Service land — is insufficient for effectively managing U.S. Department of Agriculture’s overall cleanup program,” the GAO paper stated.

The GAO report also stated that the Pentagon is inaccurately “estimating and reporting environmental liabilities,” and that GAO has been asking them to rectify the problem since 2006. “This recommendation has not been implemented,” the report stated.

The federal government is responsible for cleanup in places “where federal activities have contaminated the environment,” as GAO noted.

“Various federal laws, agreements with states, and court decisions require the federal government to clean up environmental hazards at federal sites and facilities — such as nuclear weapons production facilities and military installations,” the report said.  “Such sites are contaminated by many types of waste.”

Shore and Underwater Contaminated Sites Workshop – June 6th to 7th

The Real Property Institute of Canada (RPIC) is hosting a workshop on June 6th and 7th in Richmond, British Columbia dealing with contaminated sites.  The workshop will provide a forum for the contaminated sites community to learn about technical, scientific and organizational innovations, and best practices for the management of shore and underwater contaminated sites.  It will offer a unique opportunity for the public, private, and academic sectors to meet and exchange new ideas and information with colleagues and industry representatives from across the country and abroad.

For more information and to register, visit the RPIC website.

Risk Solutions for Contaminated Sites Exposition – May 31st

GeoEnviro Training Professionals Inc. is hosting an exposition on risk-based solutions for contaminated sites.   The event is designed for site owners, project managers, regulators, and service providers.  It will take place in Vancouver, British Columbia on May 31st 2017.

For more information on the event and to register, visit the GeoEnviro website.

U.S. EPA Issues Guidance for Characterization and Remediation of Contaminated Sediment Sites

As reported in in the National Law Review, the U.S. EPA Office of Land and Emergency Management recently issued a Directive to Regional Administrators on the development, evaluation, selection, and implementation of response actions at contaminated sediment sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (“CERCLA”).

There are eleven recommendations in the Directive that supplement, but do not supersede, previous sediment site guidance documents issued by the U.S. EPA in 2002 and 2005.  The Directive draws upon the U.S. EPA’s experience at contaminated sediment sites to highlight the importance of risk reduction and adaptive management strategies in achieving remedial goals.  The U.S. EPA stresses its importance at sites with bioaccumulative contaminants where a response action is warranted in part because of risk to human health from consumption of fish or shellfish (i.e., PCBs, dioxins and furans, or methyl mercury).

Although the Directive is not legally binding, some of its recommendations may help achieve the dual goals of remedy effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, and consequently stakeholders at sediment sites should consider the Directive’s recommendations when preparing Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Studies or otherwise interacting with U.S. EPA.


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.

Groundwater Sustainability Assessment Approach: Guidance for Application

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) recently issued a document entitled Groundwater Sustainability Assessment Approach: Guidance for Application.  The document is intended to assist users to successfully apply the Groundwater Sustainability Assessment Approach (GSAA) developed by the CCME.  The document provides a balance of high-level guidance and practical how-to advice, highlighting issues and actions jurisdictions should take into account in implementation of the approach.  The guidance is comprehensive in scope with specific explanations on the GSAA, definitions and principles.

The GSAA was developed and tested by the CCME as an approach for assessing the sustainability of groundwater resources at a local, regional or Canada-wide scale.  The resulting GSAA is a high-level framework that can be interpreted for application across various scales, locations and circumstances.

The guidance document was produced by the CCME to support the use of the GSAA and is meant to assist users to successfully apply the GSAA. It provides a balance of high level guidance and practical how-to advice while highlighting issues and actions jurisdictions should take into account as they work through the GSAA.

The document itself is modular. It can be applied linearly, from beginning to end, but also allows users to focus on the specific guidance most appropriate to them.  It is comprehensive in scope with specific explanations provided on the GSAA approach, definitions, and principles for reference.  Useful background links to past research or reports are also included for easy reference. To help gather and contextualize best practices, interviews were conducted with the leads of all pilot projects.

Geospatial Analysis for Optimization at Environmental Sites

The U.S. Interstate Technology Regulatory Council (U.S. ITRC) recently released a document entitled Geospatial Analysis for Optimization at Environmental Sites guidance (GRO-1) to help practitioners better apply geospatial analyses in environmental projects.

Geospatial analysis supports optimization activities throughout all stages of an environmental site by:

  • improving performance of characterization and remediation activities;
  • increasing monitoring efficiency; and
  • justifying decisions at environmental sites.

The Guidance document illustrates the practical application of geospatial analyses to support optimization activities, and serves as a companion to Groundwater Statistics for Monitoring and Compliance: Statistical Tools for the Project Life Cycle (GSMC-1).

The guidance document will help state regulators and other practitioners to understand, evaluate, and make informed decisions about geospatial analyses for optimizing activities at environmental sites.

For users assessing the documentation for the first time, they are directed to review the Overview of this guidance.  All users may find the Navigating this Website page helpful.

Oil Spill Response Technology Improvement

In a recent breakthrough in spill response, the team at HalenHardy has discovered a fibre compound that enables the user to store between 400 and 1000% more spill response materials in the same space as traditional spill products.  This process, called ‘SmooshTM Packaging’, has been shown to be superior to traditional products in regards to speed, compactness, and containment ability.

The material is called Spilltration®, absorbs oil/fuel while filtering clean water.  The company claims its spill response material is significantly less bulky than traditional materials.  The material that comprises its spill response material, when packaged, takes up less than 75% of volume of competing materials.  The sorbent also had to rebound to its original size once unpacked.

As an example, the company states that its patent-pending SpillBoaTM sorbent barrier is a 5 in. by 25 ft “flat boom” that coils up into a compact 16 in. diameter roll which weighs just 4 lbs.  Its flat profile allows more surface contact, which helps each coil barrier to absorb oils/fuels 300 to 500% faster than traditional ‘overstuffed’ booms and socks.