Fluoride Action Network

Fluoride levels in Soil & Foliage in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada – 1998

By the Phytotoxicology and Soil Standards Section, Ontario Ministry of the Environment | Sept 2, 1999

In 1998 a baseline survey of contaminants in the soil and foliage was prepared in response to a request from Material Resources Recovery (MRR) to operate a PCB incinerator in the industrial park of Cornwall. The pre-operational phytotoxicology tests were conducted in the vicinity of the MRR facility by the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) and by consultants for MRR. These tests were performed “for the purpose of comparison with future (post operational) sampling results.”

The results of the survey were published in this report:

Phytotoxicology Technical Memorandum
Phytotoxicology 1998 Baseline Survey: Material Resources Recovery (MRR) – Cornwall
Report No. SDB-028-3511-1999
Prepared by the Phytotoxicology and Soil Standards Section, Standards Development Branch, Ontario Ministry of the Environment
Sept 2, 1999.

Tree foliage and soil samples were collected from 14 sites. 12 sites were situated at increasing distance from MRR through to about 1 km to the north, south, east, and west. The closest public park was also sampled (site 13) as was a residential/farm property (site 14).

“Samples were split at each site so that the MOE and Groundtrax [consultants for MRR] each had single foliage and soil sample for organics analysis and duplicate samples for metals analysis for the purpose of inter-lab comparison… Groundtrax submited their set of organic samples for analysis to Phillips Analytial Services… All other Groundtrax samples were submitted with the MOE samples to the Phytotoxicology Section processing laboratory.”

The contaminants of concern tested were Dioxins/Furans, PCBs, PAHs, Chlorophenols, Antimony, Aluminium, Arsenic, Chloride, Fluoride, Mercury, Selenium, and Sulphur.

Cornwall is situated on the St. Lawrence River directly across from Massena, New York, and abuts the Akwesasne Nation. Two aluminum smelters are located in Massena which are now owned by ALCOA (one aluminum smelter had previously been owned by Reynolds).


SOIL: ALL 28 samples tested significantly exceeded the MOE’s Guidelines for Use at Contaminated Sites in Ontario. (Pages 13-14). See Table below for results.

* Guidelines for Use at Contaminated Sites in Ontario.
“The MOE soil clean-up Guidelines have been developed to provide guidance for cleaning up contaminated soil. The Guidelines are not legislated Regulations. Also, the Guidelines are not action levels, in that an exceedence does not automatically mean that a clean-up must be conducted. The Guidelines were prepared to help industrial property owners decide how to clean-up contaminated soil when property is sold and/or the land-use changes. Most municipalities insist that contaminated soil is cleaned up according to MOE Guidelines before they will approve a zoning change for redevelopment, therefore, even though the Guidelines is voluntary most industrial property owners and developers are obliged to use it. For example, the owner of an industrial property who plans to sell the land to a developer who intends to build residential housing can use the Guidelines to clean up the soil to meet the residential land-use criteria. In this way previously-contaminated industrial land can be re-used for residential housing without concern for adverse environmental effects.” (Page 28)

FOLIAGE: 27 of the 30 samples exceeded the MOE’s Upper Limits of Normal Contaminant Guidelines. (Pages 11-12). See Table below for results.

** Upper Limits of Normal Contaminant Guidelines.
“The MOE Upper Limits of Normal (ULN) contaminant guidelines represent the expected maximum concentration in surface soil, foliage (trees and shurbs), grass, moss bags, and snow from areas in Ontario not exposed to the influence of a pollution source. Urban ULN guidelines are based on samples colleced from urban centres, whereas rural ULN guidelines were developed from non-urbanized areas… The ULNs do not represent maximum desirable or allowable limits. Rather, they are an indication that concentrations that exceed the ULN may be the result of contamination from a pollution source. Concentrations that exceed the ULNs are not necessarily toxic to plants, animals, or people. Concentrations that are below the ULNs are not known to be toxic.” (Page 27)

MOE MRR MOE Guideline* MOE MRR MOE Guideline**
115 877 61 Site 1 16 23 15
100 420 61 Site 2 21 21 15
130 463 61 Site 3 17 20 15
94 553 61 Site 4 10 17 15
120 626 61 Site 5 17 20 15
120 704 61 Site 6 10 15 15
140 373 61 Site 7 44 35 15
93 531 61 Site 8 56 44 15
99 628 61 Site 9 19 28 15
115 320 61 Site 10 28 20 15
115 320 61 Site 11 17 19 15
160 573 61 Site 12 28 31 15
91  287 61 Site 13
(Public Park)
33 29 15
190 485 61 Site 14 22 22 15
Site 14 26 28 15
NOTE ON THE DISCREPANCY FOR THE SOIL RESULTS, according to the report:“The Phillips [testing laboratory used by MRR consultants] and MOE soil fluoride means were in poor agreement, with the Phillips results being as much as 8 times higher (eg. Site 1). Phillips replicate fluoride results, particularly for soil Sites 2, 3, 7, 10, and 14, were also discrepant, in contrast with the corresponding MOE data. For example, at Site 10, Phillips duplicate soil samples had 136 and 504 µg/g fluoride, while the MOE soil replicates had 120 and 100 µg/g. Although the MOE uses a buffer to overcome interference, interference at all sites was still suspected and even the generally lower MOE fluoride means could still be artificially elevated. The discrepancy between the MOE and Phillips soil fluoride results is suspected to be analytical.” (Page 6)