The toxic firefighting chemical polluting Hamilton’s airport has been found at more than 30 airports and military sites across Canada, according to a federal petition response.
Documents provided in a response to a petition filed with the auditor general’s office by local biologist Joe Minor also say Transport Canada is still deciding whether it will help Hamilton deal with perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) pollution at the city airport, which was once federally owned.
The chemical pollution, which has been found in high levels in turtles and fish downstream of the airport, dates back to the use of now-banned firefighting foam in the 1980s and early 1990s, primarily for federal firefighting training.
“Transport Canada is currently reviewing the situation at Hamilton International Airport and will make a decision on its involvement with any cleanup after completing its review,” said the formal response to the petition from Minor.
He drew attention to the pollution problem last year with independent soil tests near the airport.
The document, dated July 30, suggests the government is reconsidering repeated refusals to help with the estimated $3-million remediation cost.
As late as mid-July, federal Transportation Minister Denis Lebel told councillors his government is not responsible for the PFOS pollution because it was not identified as a “contaminant of concern” when the airport was transferred to the municipality in 1996.
“Anything more positive than the minister’s response to the city would be welcome,” said airport land director Guy Paparella, who noted that he has only begun to review the petition responses.
A Transport Canada spokesperson said Monday it will take at least three days to confirm whether or not the department is still reviewing Hamilton’s pollution problems.
The provincial Ministry of the Environment has also asked the federal government to help with a future PFOS pollution study downstream of the airport, but spokesperson Jennifer Hall said the MOE is still waiting for an answer.
Minor, who is out of town, said via email the federal government claims it is not responsible for the pollution even as it releases documents suggesting the opposite.
“Most of the numerous PFOS toxic hot spots … were all created to comply with federal (fire) training mandates,” he wrote. “Transport Canada directed that the pollution take place, it did take place … and now Transport Canada is saying that it is not responsible.”
Minor received written responses from several federal departments, including defence, environment, health, public infrastructure and transportation.
The documents show:
PFOS pollution in ground or water has been discovered at 18 airports across the country, including six in British Columbia and five in Ontario;
Chemical contamination has also been confirmed at 15 military sites, including fire training areas, munitions testing sites and crashes.
Federal firefighting training occurred at an older site, southwest of the area subject to PFOS investigation, for about four years between 1981 and 1984.
More than 16,000 litres of firefighting foam was sprayed in training at the airport in 1993. Transport Canada officials had previously said they had no records of foam use at the facility.
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PFOS pollution by community
Alberta — Cold Lake*
B.C. — Comox, Prince George, Victoria, Campbell River, Williams Lake, Abbotsford, Sandspit;
Ontario — London, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, Hamilton, North Bay, Trenton
Nunavut — Cambridge Bay
Manitoba — Winnipeg
The Yukon — Watson Lake
New Brunswick — Fredericton
Nova Scotia — Halifax, Marlant, Greenwood*
Newfoundland-Labrador — St. John’s, Goose Bay, Gander
Northwest Territories — Inuvik
Quebec — Nicolet*
*Multiple sites including aircraft crashes, munitions testing and firefighting training areas