Cornwall fire hall contamination threat a concern for union

The Cornwall Fire Services No. 2 station on Second Street East in Cornwall, Ont. on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. The president of the firefighters' union is pleased with the transparency around underground contamination threatening the building but the situation is a concern. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – The Cornwall firefighters’ union is pleased with the transparency dealing with underground contamination creeping toward the east end fire station and hopes it continues.

Speaking with Cornwall Newswatch, Cornwall Professional Firefighters Association (CPFFA) President Jason Crites says their Aug. 18 meeting with Jacobs Engineering Group about two groundwater plumes of cancer-causing chemicals from the former Courtaulds site was “very good” and they “answered everything.”

It came the night after Jacobs presented the same information to Cornwall City Council.

“They were very open about sharing information so we’re hopeful it stays that way. It’s going to be an open, transparent process,” Crites said in an interview with Cornwall Newswatch.

Crites says the situation is very preliminary and they have sent documents to the International Association of Fire Fighters, which has specialists on staff, for review.

“We’re going to have to rely on some experts here and see how this unfolds, I guess,” he said. “We told the City (of Cornwall) we’ll share with them what they tell us so we’re hoping it’s a good back and forth and everybody has everybody’s best interests at heart.”

Crites says there were test holes drilled at the fire hall a few years ago so they knew something was going on. A plume of vinyl chloride has advanced toward the hall and is “directly adjacent” to the building about five meters (16 feet) below the surface. There are concerns that if it’s not treated and – under the right conditions – it could turn into harmful vapours inside the building.

As for the risk to firefighters, it would take 56 years of prolonged exposure to 1,1-dichloroethylene (1,1-DCE) and vinyl chloride to be of significant risk to people, according to Jacob’s conservative estimate – much longer than a typical firefighter’s career.

Crites says his profession is already “predisposed” to the increased cancer risk and exposure problems due to the nature of their job but the news still isn’t good.

“I would say, yeah, it’s a concern. Obviously we’re at elevated risks for some of these problems to start with, so hearing this is not good news.”

Ontario firefighters are covered under presumptive legislation – a list of cancers and other ailments deemed to be acquired on the job for the purposes of Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) claims.

Jacobs says it will take five years – until 2026 – to bring the leachate to acceptable Ministry of Health standards while protecting the fire hall with a foundation depressurization system.