More than four years after it was discovered, the world-record levels of a toxic flame-retardant chemical that have contaminated the Binbrook Conservation Area reservoir and the Welland River still await a cleanup plan being bandied back and forth between the provincial Ministry of the Environment and Tradeport International. The city agreed to cover half the costs of the plan which remains secret more than 20 months after its promised completion.
In the meantime, scientists are identifying additional significant health effects of perfluoroctane sulphonate (PFOS), and hopes are fading that the federal government will help pay for a cleanup that will cost at least $2 million to remove the source contamination at the airport’s former fire training pad, and likely much more to remediate the downstream areas where extensive fish consumption warnings remain in place.
The problem was first identified when Environment Canada scientists accidentally found extreme levels of PFOS in the Binbrook reservoir (also known as Lake Niapenco) in late 2009. That led to fish sampling in 2010 and an MOE visit to test the airport fire pad in April of that year and eventually to a fish consumption warning released in 2011 and made public by CATCH on March 20.
At that point the MOE claimed to be uncertain about the source. Environment Hamilton biologist Joe Minor confirmed that in April 2011 with his own test that showed extreme levels of the toxic chemical flowing off the airport property into the Welland River watershed that includes Lake Niapenco. The MOE “confirmed” Minor’s results a month later and ordered a cleanup plan.
Finger pointing between the city, Tradeport and the federal government on responsibility for the contamination occupied much of the remainder of the year, but in December 2011 council reluctantly agreed to foot half the bill for a consultant hired by Tradeport to create a detailed long-term cleanup plan. The “estimated cost” to the city at that time was $40,000 and the plan due date was August 2012.
It has repeatedly been delayed, with the last report on its whereabouts coming in May 2013 with Tradeport claiming that the MOE was dragging its feet on approval, the MOE replying that it had only received some of the test results from Tradeport two weeks earlier, and both parties plus the city maintaining that the ‘draft’ report originally submitted the previous November still couldn’t be made public.
In the same month, a Taiwan study found that “babies with higher PFOS exposures in the womb are born smaller and sooner.” It also noted that “the effects were found at levels of the perfluorinated chemical similar to those measured in U.S. and Canadian babies.”
Earlier studies have linked PFOS to kidney disease, breast cancer, ADHD, and the negation of childhood vaccination protection. It is highly persistent and bio-magnifies and bio-accumulates in living tissue. 3M voluntarily phased out production of the flame-retardant in 2002 and the chemical was subsequently added to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and also subjected to Canadian “virtual elimination” legislation.
It appears that most of the airport contamination originated in the 1980s when the facility was owned by the federal government and operated by the former regional municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, but the airport is now owned by the city and the feds have been reluctant to accept responsibility or any significant financial role in cleanup. That prospect appears to have diminished further with the revelations last week of more dramatic cuts to the budget of Environment Canada including over 40 percent reductions in pollution management and mitigation being imposed over the next three years.V