March 14, 2019 6:34 pm
Updated: March 14, 2019 8:54 pm

Old Edmonton Domtar site not a health emergency; developer ‘vindicated’ by environmental board report

WATCH ABOVE: The Environmental Appeals Board released its report into a former wood treatment site in north Edmonton - now being developed into housing - and found "there is no immediate risk to these residents and other people." Fletcher Kent reports.

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The Environmental Appeals Board released its report into the old Domtar wood treatment site in north Edmonton — now being developed into housing — and found “there is no immediate risk to these residents and other people.”

The board said more cleanup and remediation work “needs to be done as soon as practical” at certain areas of the site and at the adjacent Verte Homsteader and Overlanders communities.

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“But none of this work is an emergency as suggested by the director,” the report reads.

“I’m pleased that the decision confirms that the site is safe for the neighbourhood and its residents,” John Dill, managing partner of Cherokee Canada Inc., the developer building housing on the site, told Global News.

“We’re anxious to put an end to any further uncertainty by following the process that’s been set out, suggested by the board and minister.”

READ MORE: Residents notified after chemicals found in soil at old northeast Edmonton wood treatment facility

After Cherokee Canada Inc. bought the land from Domtar in 2010, it started doing its own cleanup of contamination as part of its brownfield redevelopment.

But in 2015, Alberta Environment and Parks investigated the site and issued five enforcement orders. They required the companies to immediately remove all contaminated material from the site.

READ MORE: Developer takes Alberta to appeal board over former Edmonton wood treatment plant

Cherokee and Domtar appealed the order, arguing “the removal of this material is inconsistent with their plans to manage the contamination on the site (which is a common approach to brownfield redevelopment) and because of the very significant cost of removing and disposing of the contaminated material, which they estimate to be at least $52 million,” the EAR report said.

The board said asking the companies to immediately remove the contaminated material “would have resulted in trucking potentially very large amounts of the contaminated material through the residential communities and on public highways to a landfill.

“In the board’s view, disturbing the material on the site… would have posed a greater risk, particularly to the residents, than leaving it in place and taking the time to develop a well-considered plan and properly execute the plan to deal with the site.”

Watch below: A community meeting got underway in Edmonton on Thursday to talk about soil contamination concerns at a former Domtar site. Sarah Kraus reports.

The board issued stays of the orders.

“We never felt that anything we did was incorrect or would cause harm to anyone,” Dill said. “I think the report and its recommendations confirm that.

“They vindicate what we’ve been saying for three-and-a-half years,” Dill added. “More importantly, I’m thrilled for the community. This community has been put through, apparently, a lot of unnecessary stress and it’s time to move forward in a constructive way.”

READ MORE: Soil tests confirm hazards to human health at former Edmonton Domtar site 

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said she accepted the board’s recommendations and has issued a ministerial order — detailed steps to proceed with remediation. The government’s timeline includes dust control within 60 days, site delineation within 150 days and human health risk assessments within 210 days. (Scroll down to view the steps and timeline).

“My main priority is the residents around the site,” Phillips said. “As the final decision-maker in these appeals, I must ensure their health, safety and well-being are protected in both the short term and the long term.”

She also mandated that all further testing and remediation work be reviewed by Alberta’s chief scientist, an “independent officer of the legislature.”

However, the province pointed out the board’s recommendations “did not take into consideration the new testing results and health outcomes issued by the chief medical officer of health, as this information was not before the board at the time of the hearings.

“The ministerial order requires that all available information, including the new testing and health outcomes, be fully considered in responding to the orders.”

WATCH BELOW (March 8, 2019): Remediation is promised but questions remain unanswered when it comes to the site of the former Domtar plant in northeast Edmonton. Vinesh Pratap reports.

Last week, the province said tests done at the northeast Edmonton site found 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. 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 issued on March 7. “Of these, 96 per cent are located in fenced-off areas.”

The province also said there were increased rates of three types of cancer in this area compared to other parts of Alberta. Officials said the data doesn’t indicate why the higher rates for those three types were there and said “many factors could contribute to an increased risk of cancer.”

Ministerial order timeline:

· Temporary dust control – within 7 days
· Dust control – within 60 days
· Site delineation, including delineation of the berm – completed within 150 days
· Conceptual site model – within 180 days
· Human health risk assessments – within 210 days
· Site-specific risk assessments – within 210 days
· Long-term monitoring plans – developed and implemented within 240 days
· Reclamation and remediation plans – completed within 360 days

Environmental protection orders timeline:

· Site delineation – completed within 150 days
· Reclamation and remediation plans – completed within 280 days
· The work done under the ministerial order will also be used to inform the work done under the Environmental protection orders.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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