Contaminated soil discovered last week during excavation on Church Street East raised a few red flags for residents concerned about Elmira’s long history of chemical pollutants.
The contaminants were discovered by crews replacing sewage pipes as part of the Region of Waterloo’s reconstruction project. Materials used in a long-covered former roadway were the issue, says the region’s project manager.
“The gas line on George Street was determined to be in the path of the proposed new culvert which required an adjustment to the culvert design,” said Boris Latkovic. “During the excavation east of George Street, we encountered an old road base at well below the current road surface. This layer had to be stripped and disposed of separately, delaying the excavation process.”
In the course of digging up the gas line on George Street, contaminated material was uncovered.
“The source was an old road surface layer, similar to asphalt, found below the existing road. This early road surface material was commonly used in road construction prior to the use of more modern asphalt and gives off a petroleum smell once uncovered. It has since been removed and properly disposed of by the contractor. No further remediation is required,” said Latkovic.
Community members heard rumors about contamination found at the site. Dan Holt, who lives nearby, walked over to take a look.
“I only live a block away from where they’re doing it all. So, I walked down there and talked to one of the [he assumed] supervisors,” he said. “There was a big, very large pile of black dirt,” he said. Holt says workers told him that black pile of soil was contaminated, and needed to be kept separate and hauled away.
Uncovering, separating and disposing of the contaminated material has delayed the Church Street East construction project.
“This issue also impacted material requirements and timing for the watermain installation,” said Latkovic. “We are in the process of reviewing the contractor’s amended schedule and will let the public know of any overall impacts as soon as we can.”.
Residents say it is common knowledge that historically, chemical companies located in Elmira produced and improperly disposed of chemical wastes. They are concerned the uncovered contamination is connected.
“When we heard that they’re removing the soil, you can’t help but question, knowing the history that’s there,” said another neighbour Vivienne Delaney. “And then they said they were separating it, they couldn’t put it with the other [soil], so that’s why we just wanted to find out more information of why is this having to be done. Maybe this is their procedure, but still, knowing the history of everything… we kind of get a little leery. People want the proper thing to be done.”
Elmira resident Alan Marshall, a long-time advocate for the cleanup of various sites in Elmira identified as sources of improperly disposed chemical wastes, has filed a complaint about the tars found during the Church Street project with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.
“MECP, please consider this a formal complaint regarding tars being found and at least being partially excavated as ‘contaminated soils,’” he wrote to MECP staff in an email shared with The Observer.