Samples taken at effluent spill site come back clean

Laboratory examinations of five soil samples taken from backyards that were covered in effluent when an underground pipe was broken two weeks ago have found no sign of health-hazardous contents.
Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. samples were tested by Envirotest Laboratories and have already been returned and interpreted by a Ministry of Health consultant, William Hunter, who found no dangerous concentrations of chemicals in the results.
“There is nothing in the aforementioned material to suggest a potential for human health effects,” Hunter reported.
“It is possible that there may have been some temporary aesthetic impacts, e.g. odours from the sulphates and phenols and staining of vegetation from the salts but the concentration identified in the lab analysis are essentially within those specified in the Ontario Drinking Water Standards.
“It is assumed that there was no direct ingestion of the spilled leachate therefore exposure, if any, would be much lower than that of the lab analysis,” he added.
Residents were alarmed about the impact of effluent that flooded their lawns after a contractor, working for the Town of Fort Frances, broke the line carrying the effluent from the Abitibi-Consolidated mill to lagoons on the north end of town on August 9.
The effluent covered gardens, soaked sheds and even reached the walls of some of the homes on the block between Walker Avenue and Cornwall Avenue, just south of Eighth Street.
Since the spill, a working group of the emergency measures Municipal Control Group, comprised of representatives from the town, Abitibi, Moncrief Construction Ltd., the Northwestern Health Unit, the Ministry of the Environment, insurers and adjusters has been meeting regularly to ensure communication and co-ordination of cleanup efforts.
The group issued a press-release on Friday including the laboratory results and indicated that yellow police tape, surrounding the affected area right up to the back wall of some homes, would now be removed.
“The warning tape that has been put up around the affected area is being removed as authorized by the Municipal Control Group on the advice of the Northwestern Health Unit,” read the release.
Meanwhile, residents on the north end of Walker Avenue are still avoiding their back lawns as they wait for more laboratory tests of the effluent itself.
“We want answers so we’re just waiting for that,” noted resident Brenda Johnston. “They’ve taken the string down but we still don’t feel comfortable going back there.”
The tests are still underway and Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. has also agreed to pay for more independent testing based on Ministry of the Environment guidelines.
A group of the residents whose properties were affected have been in touch with a lawyer in Thunder Bay for advice as the tests are being taken and for other related concerns.