Contaminated soil to be cleaned up

It is anticipated that soil contamination at the old fire training area at the Williams Lake airport will be cleaned up by 2015.

It is anticipated that soil contamination at the old fire training area at the Williams Lake airport will be cleaned up by 2015, says acting chief administrative officer Geoff Goodall.

“The city’s understanding is that the site will be cleaned up earlier than anticipated,” Goodall said. “They have a mobile system that comes up to the airport for pumping ground water out.”

Mayor Kerry Cook requested the item be discussed at Tuesday’s city council meeting after she, other councillors and city staff members were contacted by Joe Minor, a biologist from Hamilton, Ont., who has been advocating on a local level that the federal government clean up similar contamination at the Hamilton airport.

Reading from a report prepared by chief administrative officer Brian Carruthers, Cook said the city entered into an agreement with the federal government for transfer of the airport to the city in July 1996.

At the time, Transport Canada contracted UMA Environmental Limited to conduct a baseline study of the airport.

Soil contamination was identified at the fire training areas and Transport Canada confirmed in a letter date Nov. 29, 1996 to then chief administrative officer Wayne Thiessen it would perform the required remediation.

That work would involve remediating contaminated ground water and surface soil contamination at the existing fire training area and remediating deep soil contamination at the existing and former fire training areas.

The consultant’s report identified a number of priority items; however, it stated there were no known threats to human health or safety. Of those priorities, 28 were noted around violation of federal, provincial and municipal law, 21 for non-compliance with a policy, guideline, and code and 16 not reflective of good environmental practices.

Under a contract with Public Works Canada, a private environmental engineering firm began the remediating work in 2005 and has continued every year since.

Coun. Ivan Bonnell asked about changes in the timeline slated for cleanup at the airport.

Originally it was 2038, but has now been reduced to 2015.

“I don’t know what the impact of all that means,” Bonnell said.

Minor told the Tribune Tuesday morning, the main thing Williams Lake should worry about is that for several years running the federal government said it would stay and help Williams Lake clean up this mess until 2038 and on May 4 of this year changed its mind and decided it was going to leave in 2015.

“All that pollution will become the city’s responsibility, he warns, adding the city needs to be told more by the federal government about what’s happened. Because it hasn’t been cleaned up, it will continue to spread, and you’ll be responsible for figuring out how far it’s spread. That costs a lot of money, that ongoing monitoring.”

Minor voiced concerns about the water affecting nearby wells; however, Bonnell said he thinks that people in Hamilton probably think the airport is closer to residential areas than it actually is.

Minor described Hamilton and Williams Lake as two cities linked in a tale-of-two-cities-kind-of-way, because both airports were “badly” contaminated with chemicals.

“I was the person, as a citizen volunteer, who figured out that these chemicals were leaching off Hamilton’s airport into a local waterway where they were badly contaminating fish and making them unsafe to eat,” Minor said.

For more than a year Minor has attempted to retrieve information about what chemicals were used in Hamilton and in Williams Lake.

“Like Sherlock Holmes on the Internet, I’ve been trying to figure out what was done with firefighting chemicals and came across little abstracts that say in the Interior of B.C. there is a very bad problem with PFCs, PFOCs and PFOAs contamination and we’re working on it.”

He added it was only by very carefully looking at every record that contained the word “fire” that he figured out there was a mess being dealt with in Williams Lake.

“I wondered if people in Williams Lake knew about this and I began sending out e-mails,” Minor said.

Minor read the CAO’s report for Tuesday evening’s council meeting and said he was disappointed.

“It doesn’t tell you where the contamination is or how much there is. I’m telling the city to let me know if I’m wrong, but please give me the data and show me why I’m wrong.”

Carruthers’ report, however, said the remediation program is focused on removal of hydro carbons resulting from the burning of petroleum products at the training areas and not PFC/PFOC, as these chemicals are not identified as requiring remediation by the provincial government.

“The city’s interests are not affected by the contaminated site as the airport groundwater source is isolated from the contamination. There are no other health or safety issues affecting the airport lands or operations,” the report stated.

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