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Trent River pollution posed no possible risk to humans

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Trent River pollution posed no possible risk to humans



October 31st, 2008

Jack Evans / Trenton Trentonian



Pollution levels will diminish naturally, say reports


Scientific studies resulting from the discovery of toxic dioxins and furans in surprisingly high levels around the mouth of the Trent River were exhaustive, said Wayne Herrick, former project manager for the massive investigation.


But even that effort left some nagging doubt by members of the Quinte Watershed Cleanup at their annual meeting Tuesday night at the Quinte Conservation board room.


Besides being project manager during the three-year intensive study, Herrick was also chairman of the Trent River Mouth Sediment Investigation Steering Committee, and remains a program specialist with the Ministry of the Environment’s Eastern Region office at Kingston.


Herrick traced discovery of the abnormally high levels to tests around the Trent River mouth as early as 2000, confirmed in further testings in 2001 and 2004.


He said the levels reached as high as 2,000 parts per trillon deep (two feet) into the sediment in some sections of the mouth and 700 on the surface of sediment. The control levels guidelines for Canada are 21.5 parts per trillion, he noted, and all furans are targeted for reduction from the Great Lakes Basin under a Canada-Ontario agreement.


Samplings, laboratory tests, analysis and experiments were carried out by eight agencies over a three-year period, he said.


Dioxins and furans, apart from being toxic, also tend to be accumulative in their buildup in living things and also long lasting., However, he added, there are various levels of toxicity among the 17 or so types of such substances, normally associated with industrial chemicals.


The ones found at Trenton tend to be in the lower hazard area of toxicity, but “There’s no such thing as a good dioxin,” he said.


Agencies involved included his own, plus Environment Canada, City of Quinte West, Lower Trent Conservation, Bay of Quinte Remedial Action Plan, the Hastings-Prince Edward Counties Health Unit and the Ministry of Natural Resources. With such a large team, they had access to extensive backup support for samplings and testing, plus sophisticated, modern laboratory facilities to speed up the work.


The final reports showed a five-prong program. The first was assessing risk to human health; second was effect on aquatic life, third was ongoing sources of the contamination, fourth was remedial action required and fifth was to ensure all actions recommended are taken.


Assessment of the first concern, human risk, was completed by July of 2006 and showed no possible hazards. Assessments for aquatic life threat were completed a few months later, early in 2007.


As suspected, the source was ultimately traced to seepage from the Domtar plant where, with co-operation from the company, improved practices were implemented to further reduce leakage, much of which had already been done in previous years.


All of the studies and assessments did result in “some modifications” to the Ministry of Natural Resources sport fish eating guidelines. Otherwise: “The water is safe to drink, to swim in or all other forms of recreation. There have been no adverse effects on the benthic (invertebrates) population and the concentrations, barring further buildup, will continue to diminish naturally.


There remains an on-going need for monitoring plus checks on improvements at the former Domtar, now Norampac, site.


He figured the entire project cost would approach $1.4 million. He noted that the complete results of two major reports are on line at the Ministry of Environment site.


Manfred Koechlin, treasurer of the group, said he was surprised that it took until 2000 for any dioxins or furans to show up. The Watershed Cleanup group had observed signs of cancerous growths on fish and other signs of toxins at least 20 years or more ago. He also complained that the company involved, in his opinion, is “one of the worst corporate citizens,” and said that even their new treatment for toxin treatment is a burning process that now spreads them “all over Eastern Ontario.”


Another person complained that the studies presented were not “peer reviewed” by independent, private scientists.


Finding the high levels of dioxins and furans at the mouth of the river generated major headlines when they were first presented to Lower Trent Conservation several years ago.


In a sparsely attended meeting, Eldon Burchart was returned as president for another term.

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