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North Bay signs $20M cleanup deal with DND over airport PFAS contamination

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North Bay has finalized a landmark agreement with the Department of National Defence (DND), which will provide nearly $20 million over six years to remediate per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) from Jack Garland Airport.

DND’s use of the airport lands for firefighter training at 22 Wing North Bay between the early 1970s and mid-1990s had previously been identified as the main source of PFAS on the property due to its presence in firefighting foams, although it was historically present in a variety of industrial and consumer products.

As a result, a longstanding drinking water and fish consumption advisory has remained in place for Lees Creek, affecting the well water of nine neighbouring residents, who as of spring 2021 have been provided with bottled water by DND due to elevated PFAS levels.

PFAS have been detected in Trout Lake, Lees Creek, North Bay Jack Garland Airport, CFB North Bay and monitoring wells located near the Armed Forces base, information from the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit says. The chemicals had leached into the surface water, soil, bedrock, and groundwater surrounding the airport site.

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North Bay officials have been working to find a solution since approximately 2013 for PFAS, which are man-made chemicals linked to liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression and cancer.

“We don’t think this will be the full cost of the remediation work that needs to be done over the years to provide safety to our drinking water in Trout Lake. But this is a significant start and gets us going as early as we can,” said North Bay councillor Chris Mayne, as the city approved the contribution agreement.

Mayne told council that the actual cost of the remediation could be closer to $38 million; however, the agreement allows the city to submit a second proposal in the future for additional costs, if required.

Immediate next steps will include issuing a request for proposals for engineering consulting services to aid the city in the environmental remediation process for the airport lands. The scope of work will include environmental assessment, site-specific risk assessment, development of remediation objectives, treatability studies and remediation design. Once a design is complete, officials said, the works will be tendered and remediation can begin.

In a media statement, DND officials said they will now be assessing the PFAS contamination at interim guidance levels provided by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, which will be lower than Health Canada’s thresholds.

In the spring, North Bay agreed to move forward on the first watershed study on Trout Lake – the sole source of drinking water for North Bay – in nearly 30 years.

Finding an approach to the remediation has delayed opportunities for future industrial development of the airport lands, city officials reported.

The city is expected to contribute approximately $600,000 to the PFAS cleanup process.

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