The Ontario Ministry of Environment is expected to begin groundwater sampling testing of the Welland River headwaters for possible sources to the contamination that has been found in fish and turtles in the Binbrook Reservoir since 2009.
Jennifer Hall, regional communications advisor for the ministry, said the provincial government will begin a “track back” search for possible contaminants starting in late spring or early summer this year. The testing will include “all of the various tributaries,” she said.
Hall said a track back testing method will be more thorough in identifying sources than simply conducting ground water testing.
“We are working to try to identify the source of the contamination,” said Hall.
Hall said it could take a while to complete the testing.
She said it’s just as important to identify the waters that surround the reservoir that are contaminated as it is to find out which bodies of water that are not affected by any toxins.
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority confirmed during a budget meeting at Hamilton city hall more than a month ago that it was continuing to monitor contaminants in the Binbrook Reservoir, or Lake Niapenco.
The province’s sport fish contaminate monitoring program revealed in its annual fish guide for 2011-12, that high levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid or PFOS have been found in largemouth and smallmouth bass, black crappie, brown bullhead and common carp from the reservoir.
PFOS has been used in firefighting foam and was added to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in May 2009 due to its persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic nature, stated ministry documents.
“Concentrations of PFOS exceeding fish consumption advisory levels were measures in the fish samples from Binbrook Reservoir,” stated a Dec. 13, 2010 ministry of environment report.
The report stated the contaminant fish samples taken “indicates a significant increase in consumption restrictions” due to elevated levels of PFOS levels.
“It is noteworthy,” stated the report, “that the increase in consumption restrictions is due to elevated levels of PFOS that have been measured in Binbrook Reservoir for the first time, and not due to increased mercury levels.” The ministry and the NPC say they have been monitoring the contaminant levels in fish and turtles at the reservoir since at least 2009.
Hall said the MOE has not tested any groundwater or other bodies of water around the reservoir for contaminants until this year.
“The ministry’s top priority is making sure people’s health and the natural environment are protected,” stated Hall in an earlier email message. “We are still investigating the source of the PFOS contamination in the creek.” Glanbrook councillor Brenda Johnson, who has been investigating the contaminate issue in the reservoir since she was elected last fall, was shocked to discover residents knew about the contaminate fish in the water. She has been attempting to get further information from the MOE about its investigation.
“If the water is not healthy, what other water (bodies) are not?” she said.
Darcy Baker, director of land management for the NPC, said elevated levels of PFOS have been found in fish and turtles in 2009. Tests indicated in 2009 that there was a pollutant present and it is still there three years later, he said.
“The ministry knew it was a problem in Binbrook,” said Baker. “We want to know where it resides, and the sources.
Baker said the NPC have been providing fish to the MOE for testing.
“We are making sure people are being informed,” said Baker. “We know the problem is there.
We want to know where it is coming from.” The Welland River headwaters is located in the Glanbrook, Hamilton areas, which includes Chippewa Creek in Ancaster and Mount Hope. The creek runs down to the reservoir, said Baker.
“Remediation options are still being finalized, but the ministry will make sure that we hold the appropriate parties responsible and restore the health of our rivers and streams for us today and for the next generation,” stated Hall.
Hamilton councillors last week insisted the city stop sitting on the sidelines and get involved in finding out what’s going on at the reservoir.
Councillors asked staff to increase their investigation of the Binbrook Reservoir.
Art Zuidema, director of corporate initiatives, said city public health officials have in the past been “involved” in overseeing the contaminant issue in the reservoir.
“They didn’t feel it was an immediate public health concern,” said Zuidema.
Johnson insisted that if there are toxins in the reservoir she is concerned about other water bodies, including groundwater in the surrounding area.
“That involves livestock and crops,” said Johnson.
“We need to know where (the contaminants) are coming from.”