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Alberta Environment Minister orders staged cleanup of former wood treatment site

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Alberta Environment Minister Shannon Phillips issued a ministerial order that requires a nine-step remediation process to take place over the next nine months at a former Domtar wood processing site in northeast Edmonton, where a number of contaminants still remain on the property.

The order was issued last week in response to recommendations from the Alberta Environmental Appeals Board, and follows a recent provincial open house where local residents addressed health concerns raised in a new health assessment report prepared for the province by Hemmera Envirochem Inc.

Provincially-conducted surface and sub-surface testing at the former wood treatment site over the last year involved more than 1,000 sample locations with 1,457 specimens analyzed. Results indicated that 183 samples exceeded human health guidelines for dioxins and furans located on fenced-off areas of the property.

The wood preserving plant operated from 1924 to 1987.

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A developer named Cherokee Canada has started turning the old Domtar site into a new residential community but legal proceedings have halted the project. Prior to the new ministerial order, the company had recently won an appeal over enforcement orders that called for mass remediation on the property.

The Alberta Environment and Parks health assessment report raised eyebrows over its findings of higher cancer rates for three types of cancer in residents of neighbourhoods surrounding the former Domtar site. Rates were slightly higher in these neighbourhoods compared to the rest of the province for existing cases of lung cancer, breast cancer, and uterine cancer. For example, officials say six to 14 cases of lung cancer would be typically expected; however, the neighbourhoods in question have 22 cases.

“Our highest priority is the health and safety of residents, and we will continue to work towards minimizing any potential health risks to local residents,” stated Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, in a statement. “While these reports show that there are hazards in the areas, these risks are being addressed through the protective measures already in place until remediation of the soil is undertaken,” Dr. Hinshaw added.

Many other factors could contribute to an increased risk of cancer, including medical history, certain medication usage and tobacco use, and the report does not draw clear links to the site’s contaminants.

The remediation work identified in the new ministerial order includes the following:

  • Temporary dust control plans (within seven days)
  • Dust control plans (within 60 days)
  • Site delineation (sampling) plan (within 90 days)
  • Site delineation (sampling) (within 150 days)
  • Site modelling identifying all current and historical sampling (within 180 days)
  • Human health risk assessment (within 210 days)
  • Site-specific risk assessments (within 210 days)
  • Reclamation and remediation plans (within 240 days)
  • Long-term site monitoring plans (within 240 days)
  • Completion of residential reclamation components (within 280 days)

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