The Burden of a Contaminated Site

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Each year, the victims and families of occupational asbestos exposure walk through Sarnia’s Centennial Park to remember those impacted by occupational disease (“Uniting with Canadians, ADAO joins the Candlelight Vigil for Victims of Asbestos and Walk for Victims of Asbestos in Sarnia, Canada Sept. 30 and Oct. 1,” n.d.). It recently became evident that the residents of Sarnia will not be able to escape the legacy of asbestos use easily, or inexpensively.

Public concern arose after “a tar like substance bubbled to the surface” in Centennial Park this spring (Dobson, 2013). This prompted a city-funded investigation into what lies beneath the grassy fields and children’s playground. Golder Associates’ analysis uncovered asbestos and lead levels that exceed Ministry of the Environment thresholds, some by more than five times (Jeffrey, 2013 and Dobson, 2013).

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Source: Jeffrey, 2013

This comes as no surprise to those familiar with Sarnia’s history. The city purchased the industrial land along Front Street in 1966 and turned it into a waterfront park to “get rid of the terrible smells” (Dobson, 2013). The land had a long history of industrial dumping from coal, salt and asbestos industries until the 1960s, and the ‘remediation’ consisted of replacing the soil with dredged earth from the bordering harbour (Dobson, 2013). This, however, preceded environmental legislation governing the use of industrial sites.

A common question is, since these companies are now defunct, who is responsible for these toxic sites? According to the Guidance Document for the Management of Contaminated Sites in Canada, it is provincial responsibility (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, 1997, p. 5). Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act governs the transfer of provincial industrial lands to ensure that “a property meets the applicable site condition standards” for regulated contaminants prior to sale or transfer (Province of Ontario, 1990, sec. 168.2 (2)). It also requires environmental investigation and remediation (Dianne Saxe & Jackie Campbell, 2011), and for site information to be held in a publically-accessible Environmental Registry (Province of Ontario, 1990, sec. 168.3 (2)). This legislation, which has been in place since 1990, ensures public protection through toxic analysis and transparent access to information. However, any land that was purchased before the Act came into place finds itself in unregulated limbo.

Okay, but where does the money come from? The Province of Ontario provides financial incentives for land conversion for community and commercial development under the Brownfields Statute Law Amendment Act, 2001. However, this bylaw focuses on the purchase of vacant lands for ‘community improvement,’ and does not consider lands that a municipality already owns (Province of Ontario, 1990). Where does this leave Sarnia, or any other municipality in Canada that is stuck with a toxic site?

So far, the City of Sarnia has already allocated $230 236 in purchase orders to Golder Associates (Simpson, 2013), and will likely have to divert money from a community development project on the same land that has raised “close to $1.5 million… through cash donations” (Dobson, 2013). One is left looking for solutions to this financial burden. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund Redevelopment program, which looks to “return the country’s most hazardous sites to productive use,” (US EPA, n.d.) is a system Canada should investigate further.

As a native Sarnia resident, I am left wondering, who will pay for this? Will this be another burden that taxpayers are expected to bear on behalf of industrial hit-and-runs? Should we ask the families who have lost loved ones to asbestos-related disease to pay for its cleanup too? For the number of cities in Canada that are likely going through the same dilemma, should there not be a federal safety net for land reclamation, especially when it is at the hands of defunct industry? These are questions that must be addressed.

Post Author: Ron Strangway

Bibliography

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. (1997, April). Guidance Document for the Management of Contaminated Sites in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.ccme.ca/assets/pdf/pn_1279_e.pdf

Cathy Dobson. (2013, June). Asbestos confirmed in Centennial Park. Sarnia Observer. Retrieved October 5, 2013, from http://www.theobserver.ca/2013/06/17/city-gets-test-results-back-confirming-more-widespread-contamination

Dianne Saxe, & Jackie Campbell. (2011, November). Canadian environmental law: Quick Intro. Environmental Law and Litigation. Retrieved October 5, 2013, from http://envirolaw.com/quick-intro-canadian-environmental-law/

Dobson, C. (2013, July 12). Centennial Park’s future still in limbo. Sarnia Observer. Retrieved October 5, 2013, from http://www.theobserver.ca/2013/07/12/15-million-raised-for-legacy-project-for-sarnias-centennial-park

Jeffrey, T. (2013, June 19). Asbestos, metals results in. Sarnia Observer. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from http://www.theobserver.ca/2013/06/19/asbestos-metals-results-in

Province of Ontario. (1990a). Environmental Protection Act. Retrieved from http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90e19_e.htm

Province of Ontario. (1990b). Planning Act. Retrieved from http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90p13_e.htm#BK23

Simpson, B. (2013, September). Soil analysis expected to cost $230,000. Sarnia Observer. Retrieved October 6, 2013, from http://www.theobserver.ca/2013/09/20/golder-associates-calls-centennial-park-one-of-the-most-complex-sites-we-have-worked-on

Uniting with Canadians, ADAO joins the Candlelight Vigil for Victims of Asbestos and Walk for Victims of Asbestos in Sarnia, Canada Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. (n.d.). ADAO – Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. Retrieved October 5, 2013, from http://www.asbestosdiseaseawareness.org/archives/6817

US EPA, S. (n.d.). Superfund Redevelopment Program. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from http://www.epa.gov/superfund/programs/recycle/info/index.html

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