Finding Solutions to Pervasive Environmental Contamination Issues

Posted by on Oct 1, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments

By nearly every measure, Canadians today live, work, and play in a cleaner and safer environment than in past generations.  From required environmental permitting and limiting various discharges to assessing and tracking chemical use and the growth of less-toxic alternatives for personal products and manufacturing processes…we have made tremendous progress.  But, and you knew a “but” was coming, there are still no shortages of issues that require our attention.

Age-Old Problem of Sewage Still Plagues Canada

One of the most important environmental issues that we face is as old as mankind – managing human waste.  This issue is so old that one of the first recorded references to managing our waste is found in the book of Deuteronomy around the 7th Century B.C. (…and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement).

Dealing with human “excrement” may not be polite dinner conversation, but it’s a serious problem.

This problem from nearly 3,000 years ago remains a problem in 2019.  It was also the subject of a CBC article, “Cities urge federal leader to wade into wastewater debate.”

Toronto started a $3 billion wastewater system project. However, that project will not be completed until 2038. Addressing this chronic, human health and environmental problem will not be easy, quick, or inexpensive, but it is vitally important (photo credit: Ivan Bandura: Unsplash).

Raw Sewage Dumps Continue

Many municipalities continue to struggle to consistently and effectively manage sewage.  An aging or inadequate infrastructure, growing populations, more-impervious surfaces, and a myriad of other issues have converged.  The end result is raw sewage that flows into water bodies such as Lake Ontario.

Some of the information shared in the recent article by CBC (referenced above) include:

In Canada’s largest city, raw sewage flows into Lake Ontario so often, Toronto tells people they should never swim off the city’s beaches for [at] least two days after it rains.

While climate change is dominating the environmental conversation leading into the federal election campaign, politicians who show plans to stop the dumping of toxic, feces-laden sludge into Canada’s waterways will be very welcome, particularly by the municipal governments for whom the problem is a daily fight.

Environment Canada says between 2013 and 2017, more than one trillion litres of untreated wastewater are known to have leaked or been purposely dumped.

Billions of Dollars Invested

The same article reported that last fall Toronto started a $3 billion wastewater system project.  However, that project will not be completed until 2038.

Addressing this chronic, human health and environmental problem will not be easy, quick, or inexpensive, but it is vitally important.

Hopefully, we will see some well-reasoned plans to address this issue sooner rather than later.

PFOA from AFFF

An environmental problem with origins dating back decades, as opposed to millennia, is per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  While this topic has not been covered as widely in Canada as in the United States, there is some recent news.

City officials in Hamilton (Ontario) said they are addressing a PFAS compound that has been found around the Hamilton International Airport.

Perflouroaoctane sulfonate (PFOS), which was used in firefighting foams containing aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), now banned in Canada, was first detected in 2011.  It should be noted that there are thousands of different PFAS compounds.

The Hamilton International Airport’s webpage dedicated to updates on this issue states, “Since 2011, Hamilton International Airport has been working with levels of government to understand and address impacts associated with historical activities conducted at the former fire-fighting training area located on the Airport property.”

As of September 2019, a preventive measures order, or PMO, was finalized to address environmental impacts associated with Transport Canada’s historical fire-fighting practices.  This plan calls for the following:

  • Dewatering and restoration of an existing stormwater retention pond.
  • Excavation and long-term containment of PFAS-impacted soil and sediment.
  • Creation of a capped area on the former fire-fighting training area.

Sources of PFAS and Strategic Considerations

Airports (including military air bases) are one of most-common areas of focus of PFAS investigations because of AFFF use.  However, PFAS were widely used in a variety of common products (pizza boxes, carpets, clothing, dental floss, etc.), so these chemicals are found throughout the environment.

As we have previously stated, PFAS should be at least a consideration when buying commercial property and in merger/acquisition discussions.

While we still lack toxicological data and cleanup standards for this group of chemicals, look for more activity and investigations into possible sources of PFAS in the coming months and years.

If you would like to learn more about PFAS, please see our PFAS Resources Page.

If you have questions, need assistance, or would like to discuss anything mentioned above, you can reach me at 519-979-7300, Ext. 114.

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