Contamination creeping towards Cornwall fire hall; cleanup will take five years

Hazardous chemicals from a decommissioned landfill on the Courtaulds property (left) have migrated toward the Cornwall fire station (right) on Second Street East in Cornwall, Ont., seen here on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. An engineering firm can come up with a five-year plan to break down the contaminents underground while protecting the fire hall and its occupants from exposure. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – One of two groundwater plumes of cancer-causing chemicals from a former waste site on the Courtaulds property has crept closer to the Cornwall Fire Services station on Second Street East, city council learned Monday.

Jeremy Piper of Jacobs Engineering Group told council during a special meeting Monday afternoon they have been monitoring two plumes of 1,1-dichloroethylene (also known as 1,1-DCE) and vinyl chloride – two known carcinogens, leeching from the landfill site that was closed in 1971. The monitoring has been ongoing for about 14 years.

The plume of vinyl chloride had stayed roughly nine meters (29 feet) from the fire station until recent testing in May discovered the contamination had crept closer to the surface, about five meters (16 feet) below the earth, and “directly adjacent” to the fire hall on the east side of the building.

The owner of the property is Nouryon Chemicals, who hired Jacobs to come up with a cleanup plan and to protect firefighters and the station from potential exposure. The company will be paying for the entire cleanup.

The plan, which should be in place by January 2021 if all approvals and work is on schedule, will see over 100 deep wells drilled on the property with a system to force oxygen into the soil. The oxygen is meant to “kick start” underground bacteria that will break down the chemicals.

The second part of the plan would see holes bored under the fire station and a system installed to depressurize the area under the building’s foundation to prevent any potential contaminants from getting into the building. The “risk mitigation system” is not expected to affect normal work and operations at the fire hall.

The entire job will take until 2026 (five years) to complete.

The work is being done at the insistence of the Ontario Ministry of Environment. Piper believes the MOE is assertive on the cleanup because a Cornwall resident at the MOE is in charge of the file, he explained to Mayor Bernadette Clement.

A number of councillors are concerned about exposure to the firefighters, nearby residents and the municipal water and sewer system on Second Street East.

“Have we got a Love Canal situation?” Coun. Claude McIntosh asked, referring to the 1970s environmental disaster in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Based on Jacob’s conservative estimates, it would take prolonged exposure over 56 years to be of significant risk from the volatile organic compounds, which are known to increase the risk of cancer and liver damage.

The contamination is in the northeast corner of the former Courtaulds property where the closed landfill is located. There is nothing being built on it. A housing development is being built on a separate section of land to the south.

Once the chemicals are broken down to “residential standard” levels set out by the MOE, the company would then tackle cleaning up the closed landfill itself in a second phase of the project.

A similar presentation is being made today (Tuesday) to the Cornwall firefighters. Acting Chief Jeff Weber says they are aware of the situation.