Fluoride Action Network

Ontario, Canada: Hamilton airport hush-hush on contamination and cleanup

Source: Hamilton Spectator | October 27th, 2011 | By Matthew Van Dongen
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

Hamilton residents should finally learn next month how badly contaminated their airport is with old firefighting foam chemicals and what will be done about it.

Private airport operator TradePort began studying the extent of perfluorooctanyl sulfonate (PFOS) pollution at the facility’s old firefighting training pad after tests revealed high levels of the banned synthetic chemical in nearby soil and downstream in wildlife at a Binbrook conservation area.

The airport temporarily trapped polluted run-off in a pond this summer and submitted a plan to permanently deal with the PFOS contamination to the Ministry of the Environment in August. But two months later, the details of that plan and test results from the site are still secret.

TradePort aims to update city council on its proposal to deal with the contamination in November, said president Richard Koroscil, and “at that point, everything would be public.”

Some Hamilton residents are impatient for the information to be released.

“It seems like they never give out any of this information until members of the public pressure them to,” said Joe Minor, an Environment Hamilton member and biologist who conducted his own tests for the toxic chemical near the airport this year.

Minor argued the public ought to see and debate the airport’s proposal before the MOE signs off on a final plan, especially if it’s a choice between removing or “containing” polluted soil.

“We’re certainly getting the runaround, which concerns me,” added Andy Fevez, a Glanbrook conservation group volunteer who has worked for years to help clean up the reservoir at the Binbrook Conservation Area, where high levels of the chemical were first discovered in wildlife.

“If they’ve done all of these PFOS tests that show what kind of contamination there is, and where, they should let people know,” said Fevez, a former board member of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, which is responsible for the conservation area. “People might have solutions or suggestions that could help. But if you don’t know the extent of the problem, how can you help?”

The conservation authority is also waiting on an update, said land management director Darcy Baker, who said the board has a “standing request” for PFOS updates at its monthly meetings.

“I think there are still some big questions that need to be answered,” said Baker about the extent and severity of contamination at the airport. “I think (board members) are quite anxious to find that information out.”

Airport officials said in August they wouldn’t reveal test results or plan details until after MOE approval — a thumbs up they initially expected by the end of August.

The approval process is “progressing more slowly than we first envisioned,” said MOE spokesperson Jennifer Hall.

It also isn’t finished yet.

Hall said the ministry wants more test results to show how far the contamination extends from the old firefighting pad.

The ministry has also provided “further direction” to TradePort on its proposed long-term solution “to ensure it is considering all of the options available for the protection of the community and the environment.”

Hall still wouldn’t say what the plan entails, or reveal test results given to the ministry so far. “We don’t have all the data yet,” she said. “Half-data is not valuable data.”

Hall did say monitoring of the temporary retention pond at the airport shows it hasn’t overflowed, even during last week’s massive rainstorm.

A date for the airport’s city hall presentation hasn’t been confirmed yet, but Hall said ministry officials would like to be on-hand to answer questions, if invited.