As CPAC winds down, long­stand­ing con­cerns re­main

More stud­ies needed to find scope of new con­tam­i­nants, con­firm that 2028 dead­line will be missed, group tells coun­cil

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - STEVE KANNON

NEW TEST­ING HAV­ING SHOWN el­e­vated lev­els of con­tam­i­nants down­stream from Chem­tura plant in Elmira, lo­cal of­fi­cials are not only con­cerned that tox­ins are leach­ing off­site but are again ques­tion­ing whether the chem­i­cal pro­ducer can meet the 2028 dead­line for clean­ing the town’s aquifer.

While the com­pany has for years main­tained it could meet the timeline, it has re­cently ac­knowl­edged cur­rent re­me­di­a­tion ef­forts – pump­ing wa­ter from the aquifer un­der­neath Elmira and treat­ing it for con­tam­i­nants – aren’t likely to suc­ceed on their own.

That’s long been the po­si­tion of the Chem­tura Public Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, the en­vi­ron­men­tal watchdog group whose term ex­pires at the end of the month, to be re­placed by a more com­pany-friendly ar­range­ment cooked up by Mayor Sandy Shantz. Both the cur­rent town­ship coun­cil and its pre­de­ces­sor, how­ever, have also ex­pressed doubts about the dead­line date.

Ad­dress­ing coun­cil for the fi­nal time last week, CPAC mem­bers en­cour­aged the town­ship to keep press­ing both Chem­tura and the Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment for ac­tion on the pol­lu­tants on and near the site.

Ron Camp­bell, a CPAC mem­ber whose busi­ness is re­me­di­a­tion of con­tam­i­nated prop­er­ties, said the pace of progress since cleanup be­gan two decades ago in­di­cates there is lit­tle chance it will be done in another 13 years. “It’s a mon­u­men­tal task.” Chem­tura has been us­ing a pump-and-treat process to re­move a pair of tox­ins – NDMA (ni­trosodimethy­lamine) and chloroben­zene – from the for­mer drink­ing wa­ter aquifers un­der­neath Elmira. Dis­cov­ery in 1989 of the car­cino­genic NDMA pre­cip­i­tated the wa­ter cri­sis in Elmira, lead­ing to the con­struc­tion of a pipeline from Waterloo, which sup­plies the town with wa­ter to this day.

An MoE con­trol or­der sets out the com­pany’s re­spon­si­bil­ity for deal­ing with the con­tam­i­nants in the mu­nic­i­pal aquifers, with a dead­line of 2028. More than two decades past the start of the cri­sis, CPAC is wor­ried the timeline won’t be met, call­ing for pro­vin­cial in­ter­ven­tion. It wants the com­pany to re­move con­tam­i­nated source ma­te­rial rather than sim­ply treat­ing the ground­wa­ter.

A CPAC-com­mis­sioned study that found el­e­vated lev­els of DDT in the Cana­gagigue Creek down­stream of the chem­i­cal plant – 20 to 2,900 times higher than the ap­pli­ca­ble On­tario Max­i­mum Al­low­able Con­cen­tra­tion stan­dards – is an in­di­ca­tion pol­lu­tants are mi­grat­ing off­site, said Graham Chevreau, a CPAC mem­ber and a pro­fes­sional chemist who drafted the re­port tabled ear­lier this month. He called for a com­pre­hen­sive study of the prob­lem ar­eas, some­thing far more ex­ten­sive than has been done to date, point­ing to a site at Pine River in St. Louis, Michigan, home to a 52acre par­cel once oc­cu­pied by the Michigan Chem­i­cal Cor­po­ra­tion, and later Vel­si­col Chem­i­cal Com­pany, where the con­tam­i­na­tion is­sues were much the same.

“You can’t de­sign a so­lu­tion un­til you de­fine the prob­lem,” he said, not­ing the com­pany and the min­istry have been re­luc­tant to do so.

Point­ing out that the province’s own guide to eat­ing sports fish warns about fish caught down­stream of Chem­tura, he said that speaks vol­umes com­pared to the MoE’s stance in Elmira.

“That is a pretty good in­di­ca­tion that some­thing is go­ing on.”

For its part, Chem­tura main­tains the sit­u­a­tion is not as grave as CPAC paints it to be.

“Chem­tura has been aware of the is­sue of down­stream con­tam­i­na­tion with DDT and diox­ins for many years. Our ap­proach has been to first in­ves­ti­gate and un­der­stand the sources of these con­tam­i­nants, and then re­me­di­ate any source ar­eas that were found. In the mid 1990s, we de­ter­mined con­clu­sively that these con­tam­i­nants are not trans­ported by ground­wa­ter due to their hy­dropho­bic prop­er­ties, but rather by ero­sion of on-site con­tam­i­nated soils with de­po­si­tion as sed­i­ment fur­ther down­stream in the creek en­vi­ron­ment. CPAC seems to have com­pletely missed this point,” Jeff Mer­ri­man, Chem­tura’s man­ager of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­me­di­a­tion, said in a writ­ten state­ment to coun­cil­lors.

“We do not be­lieve, how­ever, that the lack of ev­i­dence so far means that we shouldn’t in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther. In fact, Chem­tura has pre­pared an “East Side Sur­fi­cial Soil and Ground­wa­ter In­ves­ti­ga­tion Work Plan” to ex­am­ine the pos­si­bil­ity that con­tam­i­nants in the soil or shal­low wa­ter on the eastern or south­ern bound­aries of our prop­erty could be im­pact­ing creek sed­i­ments at the present time. We are con­fi­dent that with the in­for­ma­tion gained from this sam­pling pro­ject, a de­fin­i­tive, data-driven state­ment can be made on this topic. If on­go­ing con­tam­i­na­tion is found to be mov­ing into the creek en­vi­ron­ment, Chem­tura will ad­dress the mat­ter ap­pro­pri­ately.”


Even as Wool­wich coun­cil re­places CPAC with a new for­mat, con­cerns re­main about tox­ins on and off­site at the Chem­tura plant in Elmira.

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