Elmira Independent editorial
It’s been a common theme at the last several meetings of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee.
CPAC members are pushing for source removal of contaminants on the Chemtura site, as a means of speeding up the overall cleanup of Elmira’s contaminated groundwater.
And while it remains to be seen whether this is even feasible, given the number of buildings that are directly over the contaminated sites, there is one location where source removal makes a great deal of sense.
That’s at the former gravel pit sites known as GP1 and GP2, on the southeast portion of the property. These pits were used to collect seepage, overflow and stormwater runoff from a number of waste pits on the site. It was a common practice in the 1940s, a solution that existed long before the Ontario government even had a Ministry of the Environment. The gravel pits were in used until approximately 1970, when the use of former waste pits were discontinued.
The list of contaminants found in the soil on GP1 and GP2 is not one anyone wishes to think about — dioxins, furans and DDT among them. These are highly toxic, carcinogenic, and, even worse, are not known to break down easily into less innocuous compounds. In short, soil contaminated with these chemicals is contaminated for the long term.
At a recent CPAC meeting, Chemtura officials presented a report that outlined potential solutions for these former waste pits. The preferred solution for Chemtura, according to a report by the company’s consultants, would be “capping” the contaminated soil on GP1 and GP2, essentially leaving the contaminated soil in place, albeit under a protective cover.
Understandably, CPAC members, as well as members of APT Environment, have balked at the proposal. Even the Ministry of the Environment, in a carefully worded letter, suggests that source removal of the contaminated soil is the “most preferable long-term solution. The MOE says it cannot require Chemtura to remove the soil, as it is on Chemtura property, but it came fairly close to making that request.
Chemtura has yet to publicly declare which approach it will take, but we believe the best option overall is source removal of these contaminants.
While there is some risk in disturbing the contaminated soil, removal will bring much-needed peace of mind. Given the fact that there have been instances in which these hazardous chemicals have shown up in tests conducted downstream of Chemtura, there is some validity to the concerns that the chemicals in GP1 and GP2 may be leaving the site — regardless of assurances we have had from Chemtura on this matter.
At the very least, we would like to see the Ministry of the Environment require further testing downstream of Chemtura, to determine whether this previous test from 1995 is an isolated result, or points to an ongoing problem. Regardless of the answer, removing the contaminated soil to a secure waste facility would be a far better option than simply leaving it there in perpetuity.
Given all we know about Elmira’s contaminated groundwater, and the historic practices that led to this contamination, we believe the argument could be made that Chemtura owes us this courtesy.