Project update

March 14, 2019: Release of Ministerial Order/decisions on Environmental Appeals Board report and recommendations

On March 13, Alberta Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips released her decision on the appeal of the orders issued to Cherokee Canada Inc., 1510837 Alberta Ltd. and Domtar Inc. The minister underlined that concerns for the health and welfare of local residents remains paramount for the government.

In the order, the minister directs the current and former owners of the site to undertake the work on the site within specific periods of time from the issuance of the order. This work includes:

  • Temporary dust control plans (within seven days)
  • Dust control plans (within 60 days)
  • Site delineation (sampling) plan (within 90 days)
  • Site delineation(sampling) (within 150 days)
  • Site modelling identifying all current and historical sampling (within 180 days)
  • Human health risk assessment (within 210 days)
  • Site-specific risk assessments (within 210 days)
  • Reclamation and remediation plans (within 240 days)
  • Long term site monitoring plans (within 240 days)
  • Completion of residential reclamation components (within 280 days)

Plans requiring departmental sign-off will be reviewed by a regional Approvals manager or a regional Approvals manager and the ministry’s Chief Scientist.

The minister also issued two environmental protection orders:

  • An order to Cherokee Canada Inc. and 15120837 Alberta Ltd. to conduct sampling and remediation within the Verte Homesteader community and for the berm to the south of the community to address the presence of dioxins and furans.
  • An order to Domtar Inc. to conduct sampling and remediation within the Overlanders community and for the Greenbelt to the south of the community to address the presence of naphthalene, dioxins and furans.

The recent sample results and the human health risk assessment were not considered in her decision as this information was not available during the appeal process, The minister invited the parties involved in the appeal process to submit the recent sampling reports and the human health risk assessment to the Environmental Appeals Board for reconsideration if they so chose. Any revisions to their report and recommendations as a result would be reflected through changes to the Ministerial Order.

Future site updates will provided to residents bi-monthly by the companies, per the communications directive in the Ministerial Order. Reports will be posted by the companies to a community website and mailed to residents of the Verte Homesteader and Overlanders communities.

The Environmental Appeals Board report and recommendations and the Minister’s order can be found here.

There are 3 soil sampling reports available:

A final report containing soil sampling data at the former Domtar site (called Parcel Y) is currently being finalized and will be released later this spring.

Human Health Risk Assessment findings

The Alberta government conducted a Human Health Risk Assessment to estimate the likelihood of adverse health effects in people who may be exposed to contaminants in the soil around the former Domtar site.

The assessment takes into account all of the soil sampling collected to date, which includes over 1,400 samples collected at the surface and sub-surface level.

The assessment supports the government’s determination made last year that there are hazards to human health in the soil, and that the protective measures introduced last year, which included fencing and dust control, were necessary to protect residents from potential exposure.

Because of these controls, there is currently very little risk of exposure.

The main human health risk was found to be the presence of dioxins and furans, which are at levels considerably higher than what is acceptable. The highest levels of health risk posed by these contaminants were identified in areas that have already been fenced off.

In light of the assessment’s findings, the Alberta government will be considering more definitive controls in the spring to ensure long-term exposure control is in place. Remediation on areas of specific concern will begin once ground conditions improve in the spring.

Health of the community

Alberta Health has also done a preliminary comparison of the rates of cancer, miscarriages and birth defects in the surrounding neighbourhoods. This initial analysis found no difference between rates in the area near the former Domtar site compared with other parts of the province, with the exception of 3 types of cancer.

Among people who had lived in the area for 10 or more years, there were:

  • 34 cases of breast cancer in women (16 to 31 cases would have been expected)
  • 14 cases of endometrial cancer in women (3 to 9 cases would have been expected)
  • 22 cases of lung cancer in men (6 to 14 cases would have been expected)

No differences in any childhood cancers were found compared with other parts of the province.

This data on its own does not indicate why there are higher rates for these 3 types of cancer in the area. Many factors could contribute to an increased risk of cancer, including but not limited to medical history, medication use, and tobacco use. Alberta Health will be working immediately with federal experts to conduct a field epidemiology investigation to try and identify population health factors might have contributed to higher rates of these 3 cancers.

Current residents and former residents will be contacted about the start of the field epidemiology investigation, with more information on how to participate.

Methodology

Alberta Health compared the rates of cancer, miscarriages and birth defects for those who had lived near the site for different lengths of time to rates for Albertans who had never lived there. We also compared these rates to those observed with comparable populations across the province.

To conduct this preliminary analysis, Alberta Health selected postal codes around the site where the contaminants were found and then identified individuals who had lived in one of the postal codes during any year between 1983 and 2017. These postal codes include homes close to the former site in the neighbourhoods of:

  • Homesteader
  • Overlanders
  • Verte Homesteader

Approximately 18,900 people lived in the assessment area for at least one year between 1983 and 2017. Of those, 2,400 lived there for 10 or more years.

Additional precautions for residents

Residents should continue to follow the advice provided earlier to stay out of fenced areas and take other precautions such as washing and peeling garden vegetables from backyards.

As a precautionary measure, women who have lived in the area for 10 or more years should talk to their doctor about the risks and benefits of starting breast cancer screening at the age of 40 instead of the generally recommended age of 50.

The above is a precaution until the results of the field epidemiology study are available.

Anyone can reduce their risk of cancer by considering health practices such as reducing or stopping tobacco use, increasing regular exercise and healthy eating.

In addition, all residents who have lived in the area for 10 or more years are encouraged to tell their doctor or primary health care provider about the increased risk of these 3 conditions.

Their doctor or primary health care provider can then take this information into account for their individual care plan, based on their medical history and situation.

Contaminants and remediation

Contaminants on the former Domtar wood treatment site originated prior to 1987 and continue to exist. The contaminants include but are not limited to:

  • benzene
  • dioxins and furans
  • free hydrocarbons
  • naphthalene
  • polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) mixtures
  • pyrene

A summary of contaminants found on the site is provided in the following table:

Area Contaminants of Human Health Concern
Greenbelt
(near Overlanders)
Benzene Naphthalene Pyrene PAH mixtures Dioxins and Furans --
Parcel Y Berm Benzene Naphthalene -- PAH mixtures Dioxins and Furans Thallium
Undeveloped portion of Domtar site
(Parcel Y)
Benzene Naphthalene Pyrene PAH mixtures Dioxins and Furans Lead

Remediation involves extensive testing to determine the scope of contamination and steps to reduce and/or remove contaminants. As outlined in Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, responsible parties — including current and previous landowners and/or the polluter — must reduce and/or remove contaminants.

Health concerns

To protect Albertans from harmful chemical exposure, AEP undertook additional testing and analysis in nearby residential communities.

Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services (AHS) were consulted to assess the sampling results. They found that contaminants pose a potential risk of harm to the health of people who may have accessed:

  • Parcel X (Homesteader community)
  • Parcel Y (former Domtar site)
  • Greenbelt (Overlanders community)

Alberta Health Services has issued four Executive Officer’s orders that require the site owners to minimize any potential health risks to members of the public in the immediate surrounding areas:

The priority of the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services is to protect the health of residents and anyone who may have accessed areas where contaminants were found.

We understand this information may be distressing for residents. However, with current exposure controls in place, there is currently little risk of exposure.

Suggested precautions

You can reduce your risk of exposure to contaminants by:

  • avoiding the former site and fenced-off areas
  • being aware of fencing and signage
  • washing hands thoroughly after playing or working outside
  • encouraging children to avoid hand-to-mouth contact after touching the soil
  • washing mud- or dirt-soiled clothing and shoes separately
  • brushing off your shoes before entering your home
  • storing outdoor shoes in a separate area
  • if planting a garden:
    • using raised beds
    • planting with clean soil
    • washing produce thoroughly
    • peeling produce before eating
  • hosing down dust on outdoor furniture
  • ventilating your home using your furnace fan controls
  • regularly changing your furnace filter

For more information, see:

Chemical exposure

With the exception of dioxins and furans, the contaminants found are mostly located below the ground surface. The likelihood of coming in contact with contaminated soil is low unless you access fenced-off areas.

Exposure could occur through:

  • direct skin contact with the soil
  • accidental ingestion
  • inhaling dust or vapours

Soil vapour

Some contaminants can enter the air, especially in areas with low ventilation. This could happen in a basement if the building is close to contaminated soil.

Local produce

Vegetables or fruit grown in soils tend not to absorb contaminants found at this site. The risk can be minimized by:

  • washing produce
  • peeling vegetables and fruit
  • removing outer leaves of leafy vegetables
  • not keeping backyard chickens or bees close to the former Domtar site

Drinking water

Edmonton’s water supply comes from the North Saskatchewan River, not groundwater wells. The risk of these contaminants entering your drinking water through distribution lines is very low.

Effects of exposure

The dangers of chemical exposure depend on several factors, including:

  • concentration
  • duration
  • frequency

Brief contact with very high doses of these chemicals can cause:

  • irritation of the skin or eyes
  • burning or stomach pain if ingested
  • dizziness, disorientation or loss of balance if inhaled

More prolonged contact may cause:

  • eye or skin damage
  • irritation of the respiratory tract
  • stomach pain, nausea or diarrhea

Long-term exposure can result in:

  • birth defects
  • developmental delays
  • skin cancer
  • cancer of the scrotum

Outdoor workers

A worker’s risk depends on their tasks and likelihood of exposure. The contaminants found on the site are most likely to cause a health risk if people are:

  • exposed to very high doses over a short period of time
  • exposed to moderate amounts over a long period of time

If a hazard is identified or known, an employer must take measures to prevent exposure and risk to workers. This may include:

  • respiratory equipment
  • gloves and protective clothing
  • subsequent decontamination such as washing hands and showering

Site-specific information

Map: Appendix A – Domtar Site Overview (PDF, 12.4 MB)

Verte Homesteader (Parcel C)

Testing

In May 2018, an environmental contractor engaged by AEP completed surface-soil sampling in the Verte Homesteader community. See:

In June 2018, test results showed levels of some contaminants above public health protective guidelines in four specific areas. The Alberta government immediately installed additional fencing as required to limit public access.

July 2018 update

Preliminary sub-surface results indicated high levels of dioxins and furans in the berm in the south of Verte Homesteader. This area has been fenced off.

2 sub-surface samples from other parts of the neighbourhood showed levels of dioxins and furans at higher than health screening guidelines:

  • south-east corner in the area already fenced
  • north end of the park at the centre of Verte Homesteader, between 0.7 and 1.5 m below the surface

25 surface samples from the park were well below human health protective guidelines. Given the location of the higher levels, residents are not at risk of exposure or human health impacts.

For more information on the results of recent testing, see:

March 2019 update

  • Surface Soil Quality Assessment of Verte Homesteader
    • This report involves additional surface soil sampling in the Verte Homesteader community at 8 additional locations at the southeast corner of Parcel C. This additional data adds to the extensive surface soil sampling conducted in the area, which was released in June 2018.

Homesteader (Parcel X)

Testing

As part of its investigation, AEP contracted a third-party consultant to conduct sub-surface soil sampling and delineation in late 2017. To review the 2018 report (NOTE: large file size), see:

Additional surface-soil sampling was done in August 2018. For details, see:

Health risks

Contaminants above human health protective guidelines were found along the berm on the southeastern portion of the community. The contaminants were found below the ground surface. Therefore, it is unlikely that residents will come into contact with unsafe levels of these contaminants.

Samples were taken from the sub-surface soil but we have limited information available about what contamination is present at the surface.

Access to this space needs to be restricted as a precaution to minimize exposure and protect public health.

Former Domtar site (Parcel Y)

Testing

As part of its investigation, AEP contracted a third-party consultant to conduct sampling and delineation in late 2017. Contaminants were found mostly at locations where chemicals were being used or disposed of when the plant was in operation. Contaminants above human health protective guidelines were found primarily below the ground surface in the berm. To review the 2018 report (NOTE: large file size), see:

July 2018 update

High dioxin and furan levels were found on two locations near the centre of Parcel Y. This occurred in the proposed residential area. The government conducted additional sampling and delineation in the proposed future residential area. For more information, see:

March 2019 update

Health risks

The level of contamination represents an increased human health risk to the workers conducting testing on the site. On-site workers must follow enhanced safety protocols by:

  • wearing additional personal protective equipment
  • using decontamination facilities before leaving the site

Access to this space needs to be restricted as a precaution to minimize exposure and protect public health.

Overlanders (Greenbelt)

Testing

As part of its investigation, AEP contracted a third-party consultant to conduct sampling and delineation in late 2017. To review the 2018 report (NOTE: large file size), see:

Additional surface-soil sampling was done in August 2018. For details, see:

Health risks

Contaminants above human health protective guidelines were found primarily:

  • near the former west pond
  • in the former connecter ditch that flowed from the west pond toward the east

These contaminants were found below the ground. But people could be exposed to them by the migration of vapors into their home.

Contact

To connect with the Alberta Environment and Parks Information Centre for questions about the orders:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Phone: 1-877-944-0313
Toll free: 310-3773 before the phone number (in Alberta)
Email: aep.info-centre@gov.ab.ca

To connect with Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health Link for questions about human health contact:

Phone: 1-866-408-5465
Toll free: 811 (in Alberta)

To connect with the City of Edmonton for questions about development approvals in the area:

Phone: 780-442-5311
Toll free: 311 (in Edmonton)
TTY: 780-944-5555
Email: 311@edmonton.ca