City council has asked the Ministry of the Environment to share the pain of a looming order to clean up pollution at the Hamilton airport.
Hamilton could be slapped with a provincial cleanup order at any time now that council has opted — at least for now — not to help pay for a study of historic perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) contamination at the city-owned John C. Munro Hamilton International airport.
Council decided this week to negotiate its share of responsibility for the polluted former airport fire training pad with the federal government, which owned the facility in the 1980s when firefighting foam used there still contained the carcinogenic chemical.
Ministry officials have said they may order immediate remediation. On Wednesday, council voted to ask the province to include the federal government in any cleanup order.
“We have real concerns as a council about liability associated with this cleanup,” said Councillor Brian McHattie, who championed the motion.
McHattie said he hopes the province will wait until January, when council expects to revisit the proposed cleanup after staff talk with federal officials.
District MOE manager Geoffrey Knapper has said he has no reason, so far, to name the federal government in a potential cleanup order.
Such an order would include the city as property owner and TradePort as airport operator.
On Thursday, spokesperson Jennifer Hall said the ministry has asked to review the city’s 1996 airport transfer agreement with the federal government.
The city also faces an uphill battle to convince the federal government to help with the cleanup.
Transport Canada has said it is not responsible for the pollution because PFOS was not identified as a “contaminant of concern” when ownership of the airport changed hands in 1996.
Councillor Brenda Johnson said she doesn’t want the city to get caught up in a “blame game” when public health and the environment is at stake.
“I don’t want to defer anything, I want to get this site cleaned up as soon as possible,” said Johnson, who represents the area that includes the Binbrook reservoir, where high levels of PFOS were initially discovered in the plasma of snapping turtles after a 2009 Environment Canada study.
“Let’s … go back later and bill the appropriate parties.”