Cambridge Contamination, Cambridge is being built on a foundation of toxic sludge, by Scot Ferguson

By  | October 17, 2011 | 45 Comments | Filed under: About Trichloroethylene (TCE)
October 16 – 22, 2008
Cambridge is being built on a foundation of toxic sludge.We are paying the price for decades of manufacturing prosperity, and that prosperity could cost citizens the health of future generations.Earlier this year I had concerns about a vacant property in the area I’d recently moved to.The property in question made the news two years ago when it was revealed that my new residence was lying on contaminated ground. At the time, neither the property owner nor the City of Cambridge was willing to pay the price for cleanup, and nothing has been done to date.A report released last year stated that “there wasn’t any concern as the contamination wasn’t moving”.

The head in the sand syndrome disturbed me, but not as much as what I was about to discover.

While investigating that particular site, I found evidence of countless others.

For years, many factories were in the habit of dumping waste chemicals anywhere and everywhere that was convenient with no forethought for the environment.

Every former industrial site is suspect.

The problem typically remains a secret until health problems arise, usually years later after the damage has been done.

I contacted the City of Cambridge and requested a list of all contaminated property within city limits.

Last week, Linda Fegan, Director of Corporate Communications and Marketing for the City of Cambridge, sent me the following in regards to my request:

“We don’t have a list. I tried to put that as clearly as I could – we don’t collect data in that way.

When a building permit or request for other work on a privately owned property comes in, it would be contained in the application and the appropriate government guidelines around remediation are followed.

This information is filled individually with the property. There is no comprehensive list available.”

Apparently, the environmental engineers that the city employees are incapable of making a list.

They can’t fix what they don’t know about.

One well–documented case came into the spotlight during the recent All Candidates Debate during the election.

There is a large, open area along Bishop Street, near the former Northstar Aerospace facility, where the ground is contaminated by Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Chromium 6.

The contamination came to light in 2005, and forced the evacuation of a number of area residents.

Northstar is the subject of three separate lawsuits in the matter. Chromium 6 is the same chemical that was the reason for the lawsuit in the movie Erin Brockovich.

Vitez has been in touch with Brockovich about the situation in Cambridge, and they have had regular correspondence over it.

TCE is used commercially as industrial degreasers, spot removers, and in dry cleaning.

Exposure typically occurs via drinking contaminated water.

Animal research and human population studies suggest that TCE exposure may also be associated with other health effects, such as reproductive and developmental problems, impaired neurological function, and auto–immune disease. One of the suits is for $213 million, filed by Denis and Debbie Vitez.

The Vitez suit claims that Chromium 6 and TCE are responsible for their chronic breathing problems, Parkinson’s Syndrome and neurological damages which have escalated over the past five years.

The suit claims that the companies “were aware that toxic levels of the human carcinogens TCE and Chromium were seeping into the groundwater in the vicinity of their Bishop Street plants.”

Debbie Vitez has documented the health issues of over 60 residents who lived in the immediate vicinity of Northstar, with some of the afflictions resulting in the deaths of people living near the plant.

The Waterloo Region District School Board recently voted unanimously in favour of plans to tear down Ryerson School, which sits within the affected area, and build a bigger one.

One of the reasons for tearing down the school is the declining enrolment in the area.

The board plans not only to build a new school, they are also going to bus students in from other areas of the city.

They are going to tear down a school that sits on contaminated land because of declining enrolment, build a bigger school on the same land, bus students in, and “continue to monitor the situation.”

At a recent public meeting parents voiced their concerns and asked trustees not to send their children to Ryerson.

Several walked out of the meeting. I spoke with one of those parents, who requested anonymity.

“Their solution is to build a school without a basement.” she told me.

“Their logic is it’s further away from the contamination that way.

“What are they going to say when the kids get sick 10, 20 years from now. Are they going to be sorry again?”

And, of course, if they dig up the ground, it’s going to stir up the contaminants again, something Vitez witnessed when one of her neighbours did some renovations.

No one, including Northstar, is denying the contamination is there.

The problem, Vitez says, is getting the various levels of government to co–operate and do something.

Vitez was at the recent All Candidates Debate in Preston.

She confronted incumbent Conservative Gary Goodyear and accused him of gross negligence for ignoring the Northstar situation.

Countless e–mails have gone unanswered, Goodyear phoned her once, and the debate was the first time she has seen him.

Goodyear passed the buck by claiming “it’s a provincial matter.” Scott Cosman said the Green party would “support an investigation that identifies cause and assigns accountability” Liberal Gord Zeilstra stated “To say ‘this is not a federal issue’ is the wrong answer. The tainted water is flowing into Lake Erie.

It’s everyone’s responsibility.” Vitez has been in contact with every level of government, none of who will claim any responsibility.

There were attempts by Northstar to keep the matter quiet.

A letter from the company, dated August 2005, informed residents of the situation, “In a discreet manner to protect the reputation of the community.” The letter goes on to state “If this becomes a hot item for the press, it is possible members of the media will visit the neighbourhood and question residents, looking for their reaction.

If you do not wish to speak to the media, a simple ‘no comment’ will usually suffice.

Remember – this is your neighbourhood!

We are certain you wish to maintain and protect its integrity as much as we do. If everyone maintains a positive outlook, the effect upon the media will be likewise.” “It’s pretty hard to maintain a positive outlook when you see your loved ones and neighbours get sicker by the day.

They wanted us to keep quiet.” Vitez has no intention of “being quiet.”

She has accumulated thousands of pages of documentation and has every intention of making them public.

The election has brought the Northstar contamination back to the public eye, but Vitez fears that now that the election is over everyone will ignore it.

Again. To counter that, at Gord Zeilstra’s suggestion, she is forming a group to identify and classify the contaminated areas in the city. “If the city doesn’t have a list we’ll give them one,” she tells me. “and it’s going to big.

The story is far from over” Like the real Erin Brockovich, Vitez realizes that her legal battles may take years, but she’s prepared.

When it’s all said and done, maybe Julia Roberts will play her in the sequel. If you are interested in assisting Vitez you can contact her at


45 Responses to Cambridge Contamination, Cambridge is being built on a foundation of toxic sludge, by Scot Ferguson

    agm October 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    This excellent article is what I don’t understand in regards to negative comments about Mr. Ferguson. By the way please don’t construe this as my asking to hear any more of them about him. As you mentioned earlier Mr. Ferguson appears to have written a very factual, honest and sympathetic story in regards to the Bishop St. community back in 2008.

    Debbie Vitez October 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    He was…. once upon a time, a person who knew what was going on in this city and pretended to care.
    He has since grew blinders and now wears rose colored glasses.

    les kadar October 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    And the City of Cambridge is doing the same thing now with the new Theater complex building beside south works.
    The ground there has known contaminants that any private sector developer would be forced by the MOE to remove. However as this is a city owned piece of property the MOE has turned a blind eye and is leaving the responsibility for dealing with it up to the Municipality. One government hand is washing the other to the possible detriment of the community. The supportive and eager investors next to this complex hoping for their property values to climb may have another thing coming once the contamination across the street has to be made public at time of sale.

    Debbie Vitez October 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Good Point Les..

    Thomas Vann October 17, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Maybe all those people that were buying up property around this theater (several l know of) will puchase these homes as well. Sort of sounds like insider trading or whatever to me. This was a good article. Yes Scott may have flipped but l believe there is still good in him. lt is hard to turn away from certain temptations. l can only say Deb you got nuts! l’m surprised your not in Brantford on a raft. Nice.

    stella griminnistree October 18, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Where is SUPER VANN ?

    Thomas Vann October 19, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Super Vann just got handed some humble pie by a girl at the gym that could out lift him. ln my defense she’s half my age and is tough. Maybe we are all superheros Stella when we help out others. Round-a-bouts are Regional deals. lf l was allowed to get elected l no doubt would have been tossed out of many meetings. No bending, no special deals, no bribes from anyone, just straight up what’s best for Cambridge and the folks here. That is no superhero just someone that lives in the past that still believes what his old man told him Stella.

    Thomas Vann October 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Mr. D. lt was a fine article and Scott did win an award this year for writing. lt shows he has skill and once it’s focused he is worthy.

    Thomas Vann October 24, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Just telling it the way it is Stella. lt was a good article.

    les October 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Now now folks, enough of the Scot bashing. Getting your willies out of wack over such things only helps to vent the spleen but does nothing else. In fact it chases would be site readers and participants away.
    The article was well done.
    It seems that someone else is up in arms against the work Scot may/may not be doing. The site he works for has either been hacked or invaded by “Vannians” carrying barbells heavier than 15 lbs from Hespeler, as my virus catcherooney deeevice has given it a two thumbs down. UM, stepped on a toe or two maybe ?

    Sue Taylor December 8, 2011 at 12:44 am

    Excellent article! Scot is doing his community a lot of good by getting information out for public awareness.

    I’ve done lots of environmental work, including on the Oak Ridges Moraine, and it’s very hard work. All levels of government need to be notified and the research is killer. But sooooooooooooooo worth it in the end. Kudos to Debbie for taking this on.

    stellagriminnistree December 8, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Doesn’t this person work at the OTHER website with Scot? Check it out Debbie, more propaganda flinging from the other side.

    Sue Taylor December 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Huh???? I’ve known Scot for nearly 20 years and seen him come through a lot to get to where he’s doing what he does now. I’m in solid support of all citizen journalism and advocacy. And how and what am I propagating? And fyi… I’ve been following, often getting actively involved in, environmental issues for many years. Of course I was interested in Debbie’s story and I’m happy to help with this wherever possible. If newcomers to this site are ill treated and discriminated against simply because they may know someone you don’t like, well… you make your own judgement on that nonsense. I actually found this site by doing a search on Facebook. And there’s a HUGE difference between posting on a site and working for the site’s owner. Give me a break! If I offer my assistance to your contributors, am I working for them? Wow! I’m honest, I believe in the securing and enforcing of our rights, I can’t stand an unbalanced scale, and I will fight to help anyone whose rights and freedoms are threatened. I would even stand with you, Stella. So, don’t get paranoid.

    agm December 8, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    My tentative interpretation of posting # 17 is that she doen’t work at the other site. Just a guess, mind you. Anyhow Sue, welcome to this excellent site which so many of us enjoy and well done in regards to your environmental activities.

    Debbie Vitez December 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Sue
    Anything you can do too add to our site is greatly appreciated. You must know from reading here, we are all about doing the right thing.
    I have never been in competition with the other site.. The Advocate was intended to expose toxins, dirty drinking water and bad politicians..

    Sue Taylor December 9, 2011 at 12:49 am

    Debbie and agm,
    Thank you. I really do have great respect for all citizen journalists. They have been an enormous influence in some of the biggest issues ever. It’s important that we not get polarized into being part of the “us and them” mindset. I think that all advocates should work together, using our collective expertise and experience for the greater good. Debbie, I’m glad you’re running this site and that folks are getting the truth. Public awareness and education are vital. I’ve only been in Cambridge a little over 2 months, so I’m still finding my way around, learning and just getting my bearings. Although it certainly doesn’t take long to understand how certain things seem to work around here. There is much to do.

    It’s good to know their are good folks here who will come to the front on environmental and other issues. I have friends who are known globally and some who are are barely known outside their own community, but they all do their part and things improve. Looking forward to continued readership of your site. And you may contact me any time for supports. 🙂

    Debbie Vitez December 9, 2011 at 8:50 am

    We should meet for coffee. I would love to sit and get your opinion on stuff and things.

    Bobby B December 9, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Ya, Scot’s great when he’s not getting banned from a bar somewhere or pounding his own chest on how he rules the writing world. His ego could fill a room.

    Debbie Vitez December 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Bobby B..
    You’ve met him.. lmao

    Debbie Vitez December 9, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Hey now.. go easy on the Mayors boyo.. lol

    Thomas Vann December 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Sue Taylor made several good comments and seemed to be in the right direction. Sue being fairly new in town sounded like a level headed lady. Has anyone heard from her since her last post? Maybe she moved. lf so that is unfortunate. All the best Sue.

  22. Debbie Duff Vitez December 20, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    I think she might not want to join me for coffee.. lol
    That’s ok.. Merry Christmas Sue from all of us here at the Advocate.

    Scot Ferguson December 21, 2011 at 8:05 am

    Sue used to work on a community newspaper in Toronto. She is now our new office manager at The Citizen. you’re more than welcome to stop in and see her there, 33 Dickson St.

  24. Debbie Duff Vitez December 21, 2011 at 9:08 am

    I would love to meet her.. Good luck with the new venture.
    Please try to keep it honest. We are in desperate need of that in this City..

    Thomas Vann December 21, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Thanks Scott. She will do a fine job l believe. Best wishes Sue and Scott in 2012.

    matt clairmont December 21, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Brown lipstick again Tommy…..use it all up before the New Year !!

  27. Debbie Duff Vitez December 21, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Too funny on the brown lipstick..
    Tommy Tommy, Tommy… you is just to dam nice for your own good.. lol

    I forgot to mention to Scot, as long as he keeps that overinflated ego in check, they might pull this off..
    ( as in letting Sue speak for herself here)

    Sue Taylor December 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    I thank you all for your kind comments. As for those perhaps not so kind – I have tolerance and level headed enough that I can easily cope. I’m actually very pleased to be living in a place, and writing somewhere, that we can all have our say without fear of severe consequence. That’s cause for celebrating even the most adverse comments.

    It’s true that I made a very recent decision to help Scot out in whatever I’m able. I have been an operations manager of a group of community newspapers in Toronto, so my background and skills set may lend nicely. I believe in this project, as I support all citizen journalists’ efforts regarding alternate news sources. I do read this site frequently, even when not commenting.

    I’ve been very busy lately with other matters. But out of page is not out of mind. 🙂

    Thanks, again, for the warm welcome. I truly look forward to a lasting relationship with the Advocate and its contributors.

    All my best to everyone this season and always.

    Thomas Vann December 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Matt and Deb.
    Sue and Scott have not been an issue of concern for me.
    ln fact l asked Scott to go for a ride in my 67 Dodge for a java about a month ago. He had people waiting for him, so another time maybe.
    l’m unsure where their office is on Dixon.
    l go to the book store often on Dixon St. since l read so damn much and l’m too cheap to buy new ones.

    l support Wanda and have approached the City on an issue for her.

    She has a couple of special needs kids and is a fine lady.

    Next time l’m in her store l might drop in to see Scott as he mentioned something about a paper.

    The pair of you know by now l don’t wear brown lipstick in public.

    Deb you are aware l try to speak the truth (except when l golf or fish) and what people think of me runs off my muscular toes.
    lf l held onto grudges you and l would never speak.

    Remember that time l was ranting loudly at that nice lady Judge and you said sit down Tommy you’re going to jail.
    You upset me that day because l wasn’t finished my rant.

    l will try and slide by the Mayors house over the holidays for a coffee and some laughs as well as Mr. Prizes house for the same.

    My sisters name is Sue as well, so she must be okay.

    Peace, love and joy.

  30. Debbie Duff Vitez December 21, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Tommy, yer magic.. pure and simple MAGIC..
    Merry Christmas to You, Lucy and those beautiful girls of yours..
    ok and your dam raccoon.. and that wolf you call a dog.. xo

    les December 21, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    You see that. Despite the back stabbing, eye gouging, nose pulling, ass kicking and name calling, this is a fine community of decent, hard working call it like ya see it folks that care and contribute to move things forward in the RIGHT direction.
    Now if we can only straighten out our elected officials to abide by some of those standards we might have a first class great city instead of just a first class fine one.
    Scot’s office is the former jewelry store just back from the corner of Ainslie St. so he gets to stare at the old city hall building all day long and wonder why he doesn’t work in there, collect a nice pension and an even better salary. He may have to clip the frock a few feet and remove the hat with the tin foil cause it’ll set of the Mayor’s office security system again, but hey, it’s something to strive for in the new year.
    Communications director that actually communicates with the public. What a concept.
    But for now, everyone have a Merry Xmas and an even happier New Year. I know we intend to.
    PS, the raccoon looks like Tom after a rough Friday night with the rings around the eyes, droopy,,, well, you get the picture. Like father like son?
    Wonder how that works?

    Thomas Vann December 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    The ‘coon lives in my neighbors garbage can and l just toss pancakes at him. My yard is open at the back so the same guy can let his dog come into my yard so l can clean up his mess. Doesn’t cost me for food this way. As for the rings around my eyes l got black eyes when my wife elbowed me in bed 6 years ago. l now sleep in the garage or under the bed. We have been together 36 years Les. We don’t talk anymore ever since she finally told me she married me for my body, not my mind and looks. l’m still upset.

    agm December 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Thomas: Having had the pleasure of meeting your fine wife on two or three occasions I must say that she is a saint . By the way do you know why there are more women then men in heaven? It’s because God figures women have already served their time (in hell ?) after being married to a man for decades. To date I’ve never had a woman disagree with that logic.

  34. Debbie Duff Vitez December 21, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Good one AGM…
    you are so right on Thomas’ wife…. She is a saint, but he ain’t so bad his own self..

    Thomas Vann December 22, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Listen agm. l created this Saint. l have given her a life of pure bliss. How many people do you know of like me? During the mid spell of our life when l was being procured. l was very powerful and things were not always smooth. Few out there would understand if l told them what l’ve witnessed and the “certain things” l have been given that some are aware of. lt doesn’t matter about the past. lt’s who we are today that creates the present and future life. We are happy and to us that is all that matters. Yes l rant about unjust situations, only because l want the best for all. We strive to assist those we can, and feel we are headed on the right path. My wife turned my life around agm, and even though l have some fun jamming her from time to time she rocks and l stand by the “till death do we part bit”. Anyway, l don’t have time to train another woman.

    Sue Taylor December 22, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I met Scot in Kitchener over 15 years ago. He was working on a very important project at that time and I was very active as well. We parted ways – I went to Toronto and Scot returned to Cambridge. We bumped into each other recently, quite by chance, which turned out synchronicity for us both. As I haven’t been around here long, and missed a full ten years of Scot’s life, a lot of what I read on this site about him is simply lost on me. What I am sure of is the amazing turn around he’s made, the worthy projects he supports, the strong will he has to make improvements to his community, his tireless efforts in citizen journalism and bringing an informative alternate news source, and steadfastness in it all. These are commendable traits. It’s not where you’ve been, it’s where you’re going and what you’re doing presently to get there. I firmly believe this.

    What I DO NOT believe in is polarity, cliques, intolerance, or any general lack of respect for the rights and lives of others. I will work with any person or any group toward any just end. I don’t just talk about the importance of the securing and enforcing of our rights, it’s simply a part of very nature. And Scot just happens to agree with me.

    The office of the Cambridge Citizen is located at 33 Dickson Street, across from the Farmers Markets. Everyone and anyone is welcome to drop by.

  37. Debbie Duff Vitez December 22, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Thank you for your comments Sue.

    As for Scot, nothing has changed, no matter what he’s telling you.

    What I DO NOT believe in is polarity, cliques, intolerance, or any general lack of respect for the rights and lives of others. I will work with any person or any group toward any just end. I don’t just talk about the importance of the securing and enforcing of our rights, it’s simply a part of very nature. And Scot just happens to agree with me.

    Ask him for his take on last years election? Where most of Cambridge was denied their right to a Fair Vote, where Seniors and physically challenged persons were unable to cast a ballot.

    Ask him what he thinks about city hall building without Ministry Approval on sites we know to be contaminated.. Faculties that employ hundreds of people daily.
    Those are my issues..
    Ask him to tell you what he called a certain young lady who tried posting on the Advocate promoting music in our City? it began with a “C’

    Let’s just agree to disagree on the SF issue..

    You strike me as being very intelligent, we need more of you.
    Merry Christmas Sue and all the very best in 2012

    matt clairmont December 22, 2011 at 1:26 pm


    agm December 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Matt: While I will not presume to judge your discontent with S.F., nevertheless I trust you called the M.O.E. Spills Action Centre (S.A.C.) after your leak. The M.O.E. I do presume to judge and I’m confident that if provided a date, time, location, detailed map, volume, chemical analysis, legal opinion and witnesses that they will sternly go Tsk Tsk !

    Thomas Vann December 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Thank-you Sue. l shall drop by when l hit Galt. Should l bring anything? Matt. Did you really do that? Anyway, now l have the mens attention l will tell you guys what l got for my wife today and it may give you some ideas. 1. Canadian Tire has pots and pans on sale $53.00. 2. Oil change for the car $25.00. 3. 2 6/49 tickets with the encore $5.00. 4. Bra from Zellers (on sale) $12.00. 5. 2 Bottles of aged Baby Duck cheap. A guy around the corner from the LBCO was selling it so l bought 2. Agm, l know your gonna say l spoiled her this year but for under a hundred bucks it will be worth the look on her face the morning of the 25th of December. So if you want me to help you shop give me a call bud. l forgot to mention that the pans l bought, l used my saved up Canadian Tire money to pay for them with a little left over. lf you need it it’s yours. They’re good ones that come with a 2 year warranty. Guys, it only took me a little over an hour to do all this.

    les December 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    And it will only take your wife a few seconds to put the circles back under your eyes.

  42. Debbie Duff Vitez December 22, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Tommy never change.. ok.

    les December 23, 2011 at 7:41 am

    Oh, I’m not suggesting a change. Just a tune up and alignment. Same old car though.

    Thomas Vann December 23, 2011 at 11:13 am

    l opened the closet and found some High Karate! l wonder who that crap is for? By the way Donna got back to me and we are not to worry. The City will do the right thing she said. l’m glad to hear this, and hope for the best for my friends.

    linda Whetham December 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    If Donna said not to worry that is good, it is better than “We can do whatever we want” so do not worry if that is what she said….I am now going to Bed and I will not worry cause she said so…

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