The federal government is ramping up research into the same kind of historic firefighting pollution it refuses to help clean up at the Hamilton airport.
Environment Canada is about to begin a feasibility study of remediation technologies that could be used on federal properties contaminated by chemicals such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), a now-banned ingredient in aviation firefighting foam that polluted airports across Canada, including Hamilton.
The local pollution, which has been found in high levels in turtles and fish downstream of the airport, dates back to 1980s firefighter training when the airport was federally owned.
Ottawa has refused a city request for help with an estimated $4-million cleanup, arguing a 1996 transfer agreement absolves it of responsibility.
But the pollutant is clearly on the federal radar.
The upcoming Environment Canada study will focus on cleaning polluted groundwater, said spokesperson Mark Johnson.
The results are “intended to help federal custodians,” he said, but it was unclear Thursday if former federal properties like Hamilton’s airport would be eligible to test-drive study options.
Airport president Frank Scremin said the local cleanup effort “will certainly serve as a proving ground for a methodology to deal with PFOS,” but added he’s had no contact with federal officials over the upcoming study.
At the same time, a consultant for Health Canada has completed a new toxicological literature review recommending a “tolerable daily intake” for PFOS, a standard for how much of a chemical can be safely consumed over a lifetime. The recommendation is 106 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day, a slightly more conservative standard than that set by the European Food Safety Authority.
If the federal government adopts the standard, it won’t affect the existing provincial consumption warnings for PFOS-laced fish in Lake Niapenco, said Ministry of the Environment research scientist Satyendra Bhavsar. The warnings for Hamilton, which recommend not eating large carp from the reservoir, are based on a more “protective” daily consumption limit, he said.
Local biologist Joe Minor, who highlighted the airport contamination with soil testing last year, said the new studies at least show the federal government is “paying attention.”
But he added he’d prefer to see research turn into action.
“Clearly this is an area of ongoing research, and they’re getting better about sharing that research, which is good,” he said. “But … the question is when is someone actually going to get around to cleaning up, here or anywhere (in Canada)?”
The federal government has found PFOS pollution at more than 30 airports and military bases across the country. Most of the sites are government-owned, so any cleanup would be on the federal tab.
But in Hamilton, the city and airport operator Tradeport are paying for a study of remediation options at the former federal facility in Mount Hope.
That report is being reviewed by the MOE, said Scremin, and is on track to go to council in November.
It’s not yet clear who would pay for actual remediation, but the MOE has said both the city and federal government are responsible for a downstream pollution study.