Residents concerned about the future of their health and homes attended the first of two public information sessions regarding development on the old Domtar site in northeast Edmonton.
“I live in the neighbourhood, back onto the greenbelt, where my kids have played and we’ve grown our garden, and now we come home to a sign that says it’s restricted access and it’s basically a toxic zone that we’re not allowed to access,” said Coreen Sheridan, a local resident.
Dozens of people packed the question-and-answer session hoping to find out what’s next for their families.
“What we’re hoping to accomplish today is presentation of sampling reports, analysis reports that have been undertaken for approximately the past 12 months, the presence of human health risk assessment that’s been undertaken for the area itself and then the presentation of a cancer study that’s also been taken in the immediate surrounding area, showing slightly higher rates than expected of three types of cancer,” said Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health with Alberta Health Service’s Edmonton zone.
Tests done at the former Domtar wood treatment plant in northeast Edmonton have confirmed there are hazards to human health in the soil.
Between 2017 and 2018, the province tested the surface and sub-surface soil. More than 1,039 locations were tested and 1,457 specimens analyzed.
WATCH: Residents react to news that soil tests confirm hazards to human health at former Edmonton Domtar site
The tests found 183 samples have “levels of contamination that exceed human health guidelines for dioxins and furans,” the province said in a news release Thursday. “Of these, 96 per cent are located in fenced-off areas.”
Ward 4 Coun. Aaron Paquette was at Saturday’s public information session.
“I think it’s important everyone’s informed, and residents are rightly frustrated,” Paquette said. “They are upset and they want to know who’s responsible, what the next steps are, and they just want to make sure their families are safe and that there’s a plan.”
“What we’ve heard from the province is that there are specific areas they are going to be (remediating) immediately and billing the appropriate parties for that work,” Paquette added.
“The next step is also communication — if they’re interested, anyone who wants to, they can do a health survey so the province can get a snapshot of what the general health for the area is, go through old records and find out if there’s an increase in illnesses or if things are static, just to get a better picture on whether or not there’s anything to be concerned about.”
Dr. Sikora explained there’s still a need for further study in order to completely understand the cancer statistics.
“There will be steps undertaken to remediate properties outside those fenced areas that have contamination that’s been indentified,” Sikora said. “There will be further in-depth study on those cancer rates themselves — or those specific cancers themselves — to help get to the bottom of why did we identify that there’s slightly higher rates amongst these individuals.”
One resident living in the affected neighbourhood is just hoping to get answers.
“I want some clarity on right now,” said Abraham Ishmael, who recently bought a new home in the neighbourhood. “It’s kind of an eyesore waking up in the morning and just going in and out of the house. They’ve got fencing literally all around our house.”
WATCH: Province says soil tests confirm hazards to human health at former Edmonton Domtar site
“My focus is to clean up or compel the cleanup of the contaminants we are finding, but to be perfectly honest with you, I’m hearing a lot of concern about home values and about what might happen to my property and can I have my grandson come and visit me,” said John Conrad, assistant deputy minister of Alberta Environment and Parks.
“We’re at the point now where we’re able to share about 90 per cent of (the test results). There’s one more sample on what is known as Parcel Y, the big vacant lot where the main Domtar operation used to be. That report will be ready for public sharing at the end of this month,” Conrad added.
Last year, Alberta Environment imposed five enforcement orders on Cherokee Canada, the group currently developing the former Domtar site, requiring the company to remediate any contamination.
Cherokee appealed the decision, arguing it had already undertaken remediation efforts — as had Domtar — including isolating and protecting contaminated soil from exposure.
A second public information session will be held next weekend.
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