About 140 households in northeast Edmonton received a letter Friday notifying them of new actions being taken at the old Domtar wood treatment facility.
Alberta Health said recent soil sampling done on four pieces of land at the former industrial site — in the area of Yellowhead Trail and Hermitage Road — uncovered dioxins, furans and polyaromatic hydrocarbons in some soil samples.
While health officials maintain they are not aware of any immediate health concerns related to the soil, AHS said “exposure to these contaminants in large amounts over long periods of time can lead to an increase in risk to human health.”
Alberta Health said contaminants are not known to be in nearby residential areas, but officials want to make sure the chemicals have not moved from their original locations.
AHS has ordered the site’s owners, developers and former owner Domtar to fence off the site as a precaution, to minimize the potential health risk to the public.
Orders are also in place for the companies to conduct additional environmental sampling, remove contamination from the site and conduct human health risk assessments.
AHS said the orders were delivered on Friday and the companies involved have 30 days to comply with the orders.
On Friday night, a managing partner with a development firm that built homes in the area said he was “at a loss in terms of what happened today, in terms of the announcement.”
“None of the properties would have been developed that are in existence without the full approval of all levels of government, from Alberta Environment who approved the remediation of the site… down to the City of Edmonton who approved site plan subdivisions and issued building permits,” said John Dill with CCI Development Group. “This is a complete surprise to us and I want you to know that we did extensive work on this site.
“We had at least three third-party consultants do over 800 tests on soil and groundwater, all of which have been accumulated and put into reports that were submitted to the government in the form of risk assessment and approved by the government, and so we basically are concerned that the announcement where they said, ‘This is a precautionary message,’ really is not necessary given the work that we’ve done.”
Watch below: An order has been issued to protect Edmontonians who live near the site of a former wood creosote plant. Fletcher Kent reports.
The Alberta government is also ordering testing and analysis of the soil in nearby residential communities, “to make sure Albertans are not being exposed to harmful chemicals,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, deputy chief medical officer of health with Alberta Health.
“If tests in residential sites did find unsafe chemical levels, we would expect them to be at lower levels than those found in the sites under the Alberta Health Services order,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw acknowledged that this information may cause concern for area residents, particularly since officials do not have “all the testing information that would be ideal at this point.”
“We are working as quickly as possible to get additional testing done and will continue to keep residents informed,” she said.
“If unsafe chemical levels are found, the province will take further action as necessary,” the province said in a media release Friday afternoon.
“Our company has built a reputation for taking environmentally contaminated sites and cleaning them and putting them into productive reuse,” Dill said.
“This was a site in Edmonton that we are very proud of and we believe that in the course of time, what we have done will be proven to be acceptable to everyone.”
When asked if he thinks residents living in the area should feel they are in a safe environment, Dill said, “absolutely.”
He also suggested the site’s history should not be a surprise to anyone.
“We had initial community meetings with the neighbourhood, all of the public planning meetings were made available, all of the documents are with the city and they are all online in the Alberta Environment site registry for environmental reports.”
Residents in the area are asked to take the following precautionary actions:
- Avoid going into areas where contamination has been found
- Wash hand thoroughly after working or playing outside
- Clothes or shoes heavily dirtied by soil at the site should be washed thoroughly, and separately from other items
- If planting a garden, consider using raised beds with clean soil
- Thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables
- Ventilate home with furnace fan
Watch below: Public to be aware of potential health risks after chemicals found at former Edmonton wood treatment plant
Anyone with health concerns is asked to call Health Link at 811. In addition, a public information session will be held this Sunday.
Public open house:
- Sunday, March 18 – Clareview Recreation Centre – 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Between 1924 and 1987, Domtar operated a wood treatment plant at the site, using creosote and other chemicals. In 1991, Domtar completed a partial reclamation of the property, the government said.
In 2013, a remediation certificate was issued for a portion of the site historically used for storing treated products. A new residential area has since been developed on this portion of the property. The government said the orders issued Friday relate to adjacent properties and not this redeveloped property.
Additional sampling in this redeveloped area will be done in “the coming weeks,” Alberta Environment and Parks said Friday.
In 2016, the Alberta government ordered Domtar and other companies to clean up the site.
-With files from Phil Heidenreich