A remediation plan for part of the Chemtura site in Elmira contaminated by dioxins is inadequate and fails to address the potential hazards, says the head of the community watchdog group charged with monitoring the chemical plant.
The company announced Tuesday it would remove some of the contaminants, capping the majority in place at the site of two former gravel pits on the east side of the property.
Pronouncing himself “deeply disappointed,” Chemtura Public Advisory Committee chair Dan Holt said the move flies in the face of the company’s assurances it would remove the source of the contamination once it was identified.
“We don’t feel that that’s really going to take care of it,” he said of the company’s plan. “It’s just not adequate. It’s not right.”
Chemtura plans to spend about $2 million hauling off some 1,200 cubic meters of contaminated soil from what’s known as gravel pit 1 (GP1) and installing a heavy plastic barrier over it and neighbouring GP2. Work is expected to get underway in October and last two or three months.
The work goes beyond the minimum of simply capping both pits recommended by Chemtura’s consultants, said plant manager Jozef Olejarz.
“This is one of the biggest projects in recent years,” he said of Chemtura’s undertaking, noting the voluntary steps going above and beyond what was required for the site.
For Holt, however, the decision does not go far enough.
“Why don’t you just go ahead and remove the source?” he asked of the company’s decision.
By leaving the contaminants in place, the company risks seeing dioxins and DDT one day being washed into the nearby Canagagigue Creek and the Grand River system, he argued.
“It’s literally a cover-up,” said Holt of plans simply to cap the contamination. “They need to remove the source material, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Jeff Merriman, Chemtura’s manager of environmental remediation, said he expects the measures will guard against any mobilization of the contaminants. The company will continue to watch the area.
“We’ll have regular monitoring of that region of the site,” he explained, noting this project is the last in the long series of remediation efforts that have been undertaken since 1987.
This work, however, is not connected to the ongoing attempts to clean up contaminated groundwater underneath Elmira.
“It is important people understand that this is unrelated to our ongoing remediation of the aquifer and that the pits in question are not an ongoing threat for off-site contamination,” said Olejarz. “We are taking these steps to ensure the long-term containment of the site and safety of the immediate area.”
The company has been using a pump-and-treat process to remove a pair of toxins – NDMA (nitrosodimethylamine) and chlorobenzene – from the former drinking water aquifers underneath Elmira. Discovery in 1989 of the carcinogenic NDMA precipitated a crisis in Elmira, leading to the construction of a pipeline from Waterloo, which supplies the town with water to this day.
In that case, too, Holt argues removal of source contaminants is required. While the groundwater issue is subject to ongoing Ministry of the Environment orders because the problem has spread beyond the Chemtura site, the issues with GP1 and GP2 are limited to company property, allowing for far fewer controls.
With the aquifers, CPAC is also worried Chemtura’s actions are inadequate. The company is supposed to remediate the groundwater by 2028, bringing it back to drinking water standards. It’s pledged to meet that deadline, though both CPAC and Woolwich Township earlier this year formally called on the province to take a tougher stance, arguing the deadline can’t be met under current conditions.
On that issue, the company acknowledges there have been problems with the pump-and-treat system, but says recent pumping rates have the treatment protocol back on track.
Merriman said the process will meet the 2028 target, calling for critics to wait for the latest five-year review of the project, expected in September, before making any judgments.
“That will give us a good picture of where we stand,” he said of the review and related computer modelling data.