The City of Toronto is working to determine the cause of a foul-smelling fuel spill in the Don River downtown, while a local water protection charity is criticizing the lack of government action several weeks after the spill was reported.
Bill Shea, director of distribution and collection for Toronto Water, told Global News the city was informed of the petroleum spill in the river near the Gerrard Street overpass two weeks ago by a local resident, which prompted staff to contain it while they investigate the source.
Shea said some type of petroleum product had poured out of a large two-metre diameter sewer near the overpass and officials suspect it originated from a nearby area of hazardous “brownfield” land.
“The petroleum product that’s in that brownfield is leaking into our chamber,” he said.
“It’s a contaminated site that’s known to the [Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change], it’s private property and the property owner is responsible for monitoring the levels of contaminate in that site, in this case petroleum.”
Shea said while officials have not yet confirmed the source of the spill, the industrial site is the “most likely assumption” after investigating upstream and determining it was not originating from the sewer system.
“In a situation like this, the property owner is responsible for whatever contaminate is there and they would also be responsible for cleanup,” he said, adding the city is working closely with the Ministry to contain the spill as the investigation continues.
“If it’s allowed to go into the river it can have an impact obviously on wildlife in the river, that’s why we’ve contained it.”
Mark Mattson, an environmental lawyer and founder of local charity Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, said the spill has a strong odour of oil and has been leaking into one of Toronto’s freshwater rivers for weeks.
“It goes into the harbour and this is completely unacceptable that this would be continuing. I’ve had reports that this has been going on for a couple of weeks,” he said.
“It’s a real concern. It should be a concern for everyone in Toronto who wants a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Lake Ontario. We have three levels of government that look after this river — the city, the province and the federal government — and it’s pretty clear that none of them are really doing their job here.”
Mattson said the issue could potentially have criminal ramifications under the federal Fisheries Act, which could lead to fines of up to $1 million for those responsible.
“It needs to be looked into as to why it’s happening and why it’s continuing to happen today,” he said.
“Obviously it’s leeching into the Don River, there needs to be an investigation into this to see what happened, how it’s going to be stopped and what’s going to be done about it to make sure it doesn’t continue to happen in the future.”
Shea said in 2013 another fuel spill was reported from the same sewer pipe, which was later determined to be caused by a street level spill that entered a catch basin and went into the river.
As for why it has taken almost three weeks for the spill to be investigated, Shea said it had been “very difficult” for officials to access the site and the process of identifying the source is time consuming.
First they need to find the source of the spill, block off the sewers with large balloons, pump out the area and decide what the most cost-effective way of dealing with the petroleum is once it has been removed.
Shea said he expected city officials would be able to pump out the sewer and look at where the spill originated by next week.
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