CATCH News – April 14, 2011
note: CATCH = “Citizens at City Hall”

PFOS testing for wells and irrigation ponds

Glanbrook’s new councillor has convinced the city’s public health department to start testing well water and irrigation ponds for the toxic chemical that has turned up in Lake Niapenco and the Welland River watershed. The testing will also look for propylene glycol, a de-icing chemical that authorities have been pushing Hamilton airport to control for more than a dozen years.
It will supplement the promised investigation by the provincial Ministry of the Environment that is aimed at determining the source of extremely high levels of Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), a globally restricted chemical that is used in aviation fire suppression. MOE action on the glycol runoff from the airport has included multiple orders issued in mid-2009.
Brenda Johnson asked for and got formal support for the well and pond testing near the end of last night’s council meeting in order to show rural residents that the city is listening to their concerns over water safety.
“There’s been a real rush at the Glanbrook municipal centre on water testing bottles for people’s wells,” reported Johnson. “The main concern for people is – is my well water safe – because they’ve been consuming it for drinking.”
PFOS has found in turtles and fish in Lake Niapenco, with concentrations in the latter appearing to be the highest ever recorded for fish anywhere in the world. North American production of the chemical was phased out in 2002 after it was understood that it bioaccumulates and bioconcentrates in organisms including humans.
The source of the local contamination has not been determined, with attention focusing on the airport – which has acknowledged possession of the chemical but says it hasn’t used it in “about a decade” – and on the old Mt Hope closed dumpsite on Upper James.
The city’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr Elizabeth Richardson, told councillors that the public health department has assessed “whether there’s a health hazard here and the conclusion that’s been drawn is there is not.” But she was supportive of Johnson’s request for testing of private wells and irrigation ponds for “the two chemicals that are in question – the propylene glycol and the one from the fire retardant.”
There was some reluctance to formally approve spending on the tests – which cost about $500 each – but Richardson said that initial work can be accommodated within her department’s budget or from city-wide sources.
“We could just go forward and look at sampling on a random basis,” she confirmed. “But ultimately the full investigation by the MOE is going to be the comprehensive source of data for us moving forward.”
Johnson expressed frustration that she has heard promises from the MOE, but “I’ve not seen any documentation about anything” to this point. Brad Clark supported testing wells but suggested caution in looking at irrigation ponds.
“I’d be happy if we were going to be sampling irrigation ponds directly around the airport because there’s no risk in irrigation ponds two or three kilometres away from the airport,” he stated. “The concern that I have, and the concerns of the residents, is really is the stuff getting into the aquifer.”
Richardson explained that “irrigation ponds are being used for irrigating food crops” and it was unclear if there could be “uptake of the chemical from those sources” in the plants that are then eaten by humans. Johnson also pointed to livestock use of the ponds.
Richardson said the MOE work will include “hydrogeological work” and that public health officials expect to meet with ministry staff next week to obtain more details. Johnson’s motion to approve the testing passed unanimously.
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