Chemical cleanup at Little Lake complete but contingency measures stay in place

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Chemical cleanup at Little Lake complete but contingency measures stay in place
Ministry of Environment and Climate Change says the toxic spill at Little Lake has been cleaned up and contained. – May 2, 2018

The contamination and spilling of PCBs into Little Lake from the General Electric plant has been contained, said officials from the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change.

Environmental cleanup trucks have been on-site since March 7 after an oily sheen was visible in the water and seen flowing into the lake from a wastewater sewage outlet near the marina.

General Electric immediately claimed responsibility for the spill, said Aaron Gordon, a senior environmental officer with the province and ensured sampling is ongoing as part of the cleanup and remediation process.

They hired an environmental cleanup company which immediately set out marine booms in the vicinity and a vacuum truck has been skimming the impacted water from the marina.

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“The latest sampling results show there is nothing further being discharged from GE into Little Lake,” said Gordon. “But the ministry has requested that they continue to monitor the site for precautionary reasons.”

In a statement, GE said the hydrocarbon or petroleum product leaking into the sewage system originally came from one of its fire suppression lines inside the plant located a few blocks west of Little Lake.

Gordon says the MOE is no longer concerned about the pollution levels in the water, as sampling results have shown a return to normal levels.

“At this point, we are content with the cleanup efforts by GE,” said Gordon. “Hydrocarbons are relatively easily cleaned up and they appear to be all gone.”

From a public health perspective, Dr. Rosana Salvaterra, the chief medical officer of health for the region says there are many concerns when contaminants enter the water.

“Peterborough takes its drinking water from the Otonabee River,” she said. “The source is upstream and so there isn’t a concern with this current spill.

“But in general, we have been aware of the monitoring by both the federal and provincial levels of government of the PCBs that are in the sediment, and we know the levels in the water itself do not pose a risk to the public health.”

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There is a legacy of toxic contamination in the Otonabee River that exists from previous industrial and manufacturing waste, and the ministry continues to monitor those levels, as well as monitoring the current spill.

“As of April 27, we know the latest testing results show undetectable amounts of PCBs,” said Dr. Salvaterra.

Still, PCBs are a problem because they don’t break down easily and persist in the environment, Salvaterra says, and suggests the chemicals are heavier than water and sink in the river.

“They are in the sediment of our river and Little Lake but as long as we don’t disturb them, they are not a problem.”

GE will continue to take samples and will be submitting them to the MOE for inspection but there is no timeline as to when the docks at the marina might open. The city is hopeful the site can open for business on May 18.

Peterborough Public Health suggests there are no risks to the public’s health with relation to the spill and said that recreational use of the waterway is safe for all.

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