Despite a hefty taxpayer subsidy, proposed remediation plans remain secret and the toxic mess found more than three years ago originating from Hamilton’s airport is no closer to being cleaned up. The airport operator and provincial regulators continue to battle behind closed doors over what constitutes a minimum acceptable response and what methods will achieve that as–yet–undefined standard, as city staff seek the fifth postponement of a consultant report that was supposed to be in public hands over a year ago.
In January 2010, Environment Canada researchers found extreme levels of the flame retardant perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS) in fish and turtles in Lake Niapenco, the reservoir at the centre of the Binbrook Conservation Area. Scientists at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) fingered a fire training pad at the Mt Hope airport as the likely source and conducted tests there in April 2010.
But it took nearly another year for information to be released to the public that some sport fish species in Niapenco carry world–record levels of the toxic chemical and are unsafe to eat from the popular fishing spot. And there was no public admission from officials that the airport was the source until a biologist from a non–profit citizen’s group collected a sediment sample from the stream flowing off the fire training pad and had it analyzed.
That April 2011 revelation by Dr Joe Minor of Environment Hamilton was followed by more MOE tests and the Ministry’s admission in June 2011 that the training pad has world–record PFOS levels that have contaminated Lake Niapenco and more than 50 km of the Welland River. Airport operator Tradeport International was ordered to submit an initial containment plan within 30 days followed by a cleanup plan.
To date, neither city councillors nor the public have seen this plan, despite council agreeing in November 2011 to pay half of the $80,000 price tag. The results of June–July 2011 testing by Tradeport’s consultant weren’t released until after that council commitment, and to date no further information on the contamination levels has been made public.
Delivery of the cleanup plan was promised for August 2012 but Tradeport president, Frank Scremin, now says data was still going to the MOE around “Aprilish” of this year and that it “pilot tested several remediation technologies … and provided some data with respect to the effectiveness of those pilot processes on cleanup”, as well as “made some recommendations in terms of target cleanup values.”
Scremin says that “until we hear back from the Ministry of the Environment with respect to what those target cleanup values are, we’re really at a point where we can’t go any further in terms of actually doing any active work in the field.”
Under questioning from Brenda Johnson, the Tradeport president agreed that “one of the remediation methods is to dig up the contaminated soil, mix it with other soil and some cement, and put it back down where it was”. Contamination of Lake Niapenco and the Welland River is apparently not in the cleanup proposals despite concerns of the Niagara Region Conservation Authority who forced a May meeting with Tradeport and the city, and now want information on the health effects of PFOS on firefighters.
The long delay postpones the crucial unsettled issue of ultimately who will pay for the multi–million dollar cleanup – the city owners, the Tradeport managers, and/or the federal Ministry of Transport. The latter owned the airport during the period in the 1980s and early 1990s when the contamination is believed to have occurred, although the facility was operated then by the regional government of Hamilton–Wentworth.V