PCBs remain in soil at Pointe-Claire industrial site
More than two years after the discovery of PCB-contaminated soil in Pointe-Claire, the toxic material still lies in the ground at the industrial site.
The contaminated soil was first discovered in April 2013 after a toxic spill of PCB-containing liquid near St. Jerome.
The provincial government ended up taking over the site and cleaning it up, but independent tests show considerable amounts of PCBs remain, in some spots up to 47 parts per million.
“One concentration was quite high, 47 parts per million. A hazardous waste is considered 50,” explained environmentalist Daniel Green, who has worked for more than 30 years on the issue of toxic substances in the environment.
Some sampling has even shown the PCBs are reaching the groundwater on the site.
“My concern is for the people in the back lot. There's the parking lot, people walk in this stuff, they track it back in their offices, at their homes and so that's how PCBs contaminate the environment,” said Pointe-Claire Mayor Morris Trudeau.
Electrical transformers containing PCBs were being taken from Pointe-Claire to a scrap metal recycling plant in St. Jerome, when a police officer noticed they were leaking.
That led to the realization that PCBs were being illegally stored at an industrial site in Pointe Claire, and that 1,000 L of the toxic chemicals had been leaking into the storm drains and soil in the neighbourhood.
The $8 million cost of cleaning up the dangerous mess forced Reliance Power Corporation into bankruptcy, with the provincial government seizing the company's $2.5 million in assets.
Pointe Claire itself is suing the former owners of Reliance for $575,000 they spent disposing of the PCBs while decontaminating is the responsibility of Quebec.
“These things do take time. In a perfect world we would have preferred they clean it up in three to six months, but there are steps that have be taken and the provincial government is taking the necessary steps,” said Trudeau, who insists there’s no danger to the public.
Environment Minister David Heurtel reiterated he's already ordered the decontamination, with plans to sue reliance for costs – anywhere from $2 to $10 million. Heurtel said he wants the work to begin in the spring.
If Reliance is unable to pay for the costs, the bill will be paid by taxpayers.
The discovery of the illegal storage site also prompted the provincial government to inspect 1,300 locations around Quebec where PCBs were suspected of being stored, or where they had been used at some point in the past.
The production of PCBs has been illegal in Canada for several decades, and their use has greatly diminished. In Quebec the quantity of legally stored PCBs dropped from 1,200 metric tonnes in 2000 to less than 200 metric tonnes in 2012.