Ontario Environment Ministry Issues Drafts Order for company to investigate mercury contamination

The Ontario government recently issued a Draft Order for preventative measures to the Domtar paper mill.  The draft Order requires the Paper Mill, located in Dryden Ontario, to study the mercury contamination on its property that was deposited by a previous owner.

History of the Mercury Contamination

The origin of the mercury contamination at the site is from Reed Ltd. that operated a chlor-alkali plant at the Dryden property from 1962 to 1975 the used mercury in a process to generate chlorine and sodium hydroxide to bleach pulp. During this period of operation sewage and waste water from the site, including the chlor-alkali plant, was discharged to an effluent ditch located parallel to the Wabigoon River. This effluent ditch also served as a settlement basin. Effluent discharged through a culvert at the north end directly to the Wabigoon River.

From 1963 to 1970 approximately 10 metric tonnes of mercury were discharged into the Wabigoon River through the effluent ditch. The quantity of mercury discharged from the plant was reduced by 99 percent by 1970 and operation of the plant was terminated in 1975.

The discharges from the plant affected aquatic life in the Wabigoon and English Rivers. In 1971 Ontario suspended the commercial fishing licences for walleye, pike and sauger for the Wabigoon and English river systems due to the elevated levels of mercury in fish.

Studies by the federal and provincial governments were conducted in the 1970’s and 1980’s in the Wabigoon River to determine the location and the extent of mercury contamination. A joint federal-provincial report from 1983 titled “Mercury Pollution in the Wabigoon-English River System of Northwestern Ontario, and Possible Remediation Measures” in relation to studies conducted in 1973, 1976 and 1979 by the Ministry, provided that mercury levels in fish in the Wabigoon English River system all the way to the Manitoba border were elevated above the limit of 0.5 ppm set by the Canada Food and Drug Directorate for edible fish marketed in Canada.

Further studies of mercury contamination on the surrounding environment were conducted in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s.

In March 2016 a report entitled “Advice on Mercury Remediation Options for the Wabigoon-English River System, Final Report” prepared for Grassy Narrows by Rudd et al. concluded more study was needed to determine if mercury releases were still occurring from the former chlor-alkali facility or if the mercury- contaminated river sediments are moving downstream.

Details of the Order

An Order under section 18 of the Ontario Environmental Protection Act, requires a company or individual to do the following:

(a) prevent or reduce the risk of a discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment from the undertaking or property; or

(b) prevent, decrease or eliminate an adverse effect that may result from

(i) the discharge of a contaminant from the undertaking, or

(ii) the presence or discharge of a contaminant in, on or under the property.

The proposed requirements in the draft order issued to Domtar by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change include:

  • The development and implementation of a work plan to assess groundwater and soil on the mill site, and surface water and sediment within the Wabigoon River adjacent to the site for the purposes of determining if mercury is discharging from the site to the Wabigoon River.
    • The assessment must include the installation and sampling of monitoring wells along the shoreline and a geophysical survey of the shoreline area. Samples will be analysed for total mercury, methyl mercury and chloride.
  • The provision of opportunities for area First Nation communities and other affected members of the public to be engaged in the development and implementation of the work plan, including making the progress reports and final report readily available to First Nations and members of the public who may be affected by a discharge of mercury from the site.
  • Upon the completion of the assessment, Domtar Inc. is required to provide a final report to the ministry detailing whether mercury is coming from the land portion of the mill site, or present in sediments within the Wabigoon River portion of the site, and whether mercury has the potential to impact downstream water and sediment quality, and mercury concentrations in fish. Recommendations for further investigation and any necessary remedial measures necessary are also required.
  • The order includes timelines to ensure work is conducted in a timely manner.

Domtar Inc. conducted sampling from groundwater monitoring wells on the mill site and provided analysis in December 2016.  The results indicated an elevated level of mercury in one groundwater monitoring well. All other wells were within provincial standards.

Accordingly, the work required by the order is necessary and implements a science-based approach to determine if there is an ongoing source of mercury from the mill property with the potential to impact the Wabigoon River.

If there is evidence that the Dryden mill site is an ongoing source of mercury, then measures to prevent further mercury from entering the river, and how those measures are to be implemented, will be assessed. This may include future orders.

U.S. EPA Announces Superfund Task Force

As part of his continued effort to prioritize Superfund cleanups, Administrator Scott Pruitt announced on May 22nd the creation of a Superfund task force to provide recommendations within 30 days on how the EPA can streamline and improve the Superfund program, including:

  • expediting the cleanup process;
  • reducing the burden on cooperating parties; incentivizing parties to remediate sites;
  • encouraging private investment in cleanups and sites; promoting the revitalization of properties across the country; and
  • establishing and strengthening partnerships.

This action follows Administrator Pruitt’s recent directive that authority to select remedies estimated to cost $50 million or more be retained by the Administrator to help revitalize contaminated sites faster. Read the full press release for more information about the Superfund Task Force at https://go.usa.gov/xNXYR.




Revitalization Plan of Mississauga’s Brownfield on its Waterfront

As reported by Insauga.com, plans are underway to turn 73-acre site on Mississauga, Ontario’s waterfront into a mixture of residential homes, offices, and a college campus.

A consortium of developers, West Village Partners closed a deal to develop the brownfield site and has prepared a draft plan for revitalization.

The 73-acre site stretches from Lakeshore Rd. W. to the lakefront and Pine Ave. to Mississauga Rd. It was the former site of a brickworks until 1932, and an oil refinery owned by Texaco until the mid-1980s before being bought by Imperial Oil. The land sat idle for years and residents wondered what would be done with it.

The City of Mississauga reached out to residents for ideas and in 2015 released Inspiration Port Credit, a report which called for the site to be revitalized as “a lakefront urban neighbourhood of landscapes, meeting places, living, working, and drawing people to the water’s edge to play.” Living, of course, means the plan includes residential buildings. The plan, we now know in concrete terms, includes about 2,500 housing units ranging from townhomes to mid- and high-rises. But it’s not just a simple matter of building the homes.

Environmental remediation, paid for by WVP, is being carried out in order to make the site a safe place to live.

The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC)is heavily involved in the remediation process, which occurs in two key phases.

In phase one, qualified environmental consultants prepare a record of site condition.  In layman’s terms, the first step is to examine the development site and make note of any potential contaminating activity or other environmental concern that requires moving on to phase two.

In phase two, the qualified consultants find where the contaminants are and take action to reduce them to standard levels or those set by a risk assessment. A risk assessment looks at potential health risks to people and the overall environment of developing a given area. When redeveloping a former industrial site for more sensitive uses such as a residential area, this phase is mandatory.

One of the companies within the WVP consortium is Kilmer Group, a company which invests in and leads environmental risk management and development projects, including brownfield cleanup.

Brownfield is defined as “vacant or underutilized places where past industrial or commercial activities may have left contamination (chemical pollution) behind.”

David Harper, president of Kilmer-Brownfield and a leader in the Canadian Brownfield Network (CBN), is responsible for environmental risk management with Kilmer Group. He is a specialist in remediation and risk management who has consulted on over 200 brownfield projects.

Harper says it’s important to understand that the project is still in early stages, with the draft plan just submitted Monday. There’s a long road ahead. Kilmer Group will be in touch with stakeholders as that work moves forward, he said.

“We’ll be working with the Ministry of Environment, as well as the City of Mississauga, as well as the community on various steps during … the remediation. There’s a lot of third-party involvement.”

Imperial Oil, as the former owner of the site, has also provided crucial information.

“In the negotiation for the land, the former owners did exhaustive … environmental assessments. That information was provided to us in the purchase process for the property,” Harper said.

The information is extensive, including groundwater and soil quality. The primary concern, confirmed by information from the previous owner of the site, is petroleum hydrocarbons, which Harper expected to find on the site of a decommissioned oil refinery.

statement by Imperial Oil in 2014 said, after a year-long environmental assessment:

The [assessment] concluded that there are no physical site conditions which would prohibit redevelopment for commercial, medium and/or high density residential, and open space uses, but at a higher cost than a similar greenfield property.

Imperial Oil found no groundwater contamination that would pose a risk to surrounding lands or Lake Ontario.

Environmental consultants sorted through the information for Kilmer Group and designed a remedial approach for the site. That approach, though, will still be getting input from city officials and residents in Mississauga. “It by no means is final right now,” Harper said.

“What it identified [is] most of the impact on the site related to petroleum hydrocarbons was in the near-surface environment … the upper three metres of the site. Much of our development plan will take place in that upper three meters. There’s significant overlap between the materials that need to be moved for development and those that are impacted by the former use.”

In other words, remediation and redevelopment overlap, but remediation comes first. “There are areas of the site that were more impacted than others [by] former operations. That’s the focus of the remediation. Other [areas] will be dealt with through construction.”

The itinerary for now is to focus on that site assessment and remediation.

“We’ve been doing this now for more than 10 years. We use different technologies for different approaches. We haven’t yet determined all the technical components of our remediation approach at this time. ”

The development itself, he said, could take 10 years.

“We have been in the community talking about this stuff. There will be more engagement to come as we get into the site over the coming months with planning approvals.”

WVP expects to have an application prepared for the planning and development committee in very soon.