Digging for info about TCE, by Rob Konduros

By  | February 14, 2010 | 0 Comments | Filed under: Cambridge's Dirty Drinking Water

This ran in the Cambridge Times.. comments invited below

By Robert Konduros, Guest Column


Feb 17, 2009

The Middleton Street pumping station, which supplies almost half of the city’s drinking water, continues to be plagued by uncomfortably high trichloroethylene (TCE) readings.In November, test results for this cancer-causing chemical used by industry as a cleanser revealed four micrograms of TCE per litre of water, and in December the level reached 4.1.

The legal limit for TCE in Ontario is five, although numerous U. S. states have set their own legal limit at below three.

Middleton’s readings last year ranged from a low of 3.2 in July to a high of 4.4 in January 2008. TCE readings at Middleton have been elevated ever since the Region of Waterloo first began testing for it in about 1992.

Fractured rock aquifers like those at Middleton make the movement of TCE unpredictable and variable so that it is even hard to determine whether the contamination is from current or older sources. One possible contamination source that the Ministry of the Environment is watching is 62 Ainslie St. S. –the old Hubbard dry cleaners operated for many years by Max Saltsman, our former NDP Member of Parliament –where the ministry had to step in to attempt a cleanup in 2001. In 2004, the ministry tested groundwater samples there as high as 1,800 micrograms of TCE per litre.

A 2007 report cautioned that 69 Ainslie St. S. –across the street – could also pose a potential concern given its historical operations. It was occupied for about 30 years by Turnbull Fuel and Building Supplies and, before that, was the site of Scott and Hogg Coal Company.

These properties are located within the Wellhead Protection Area for Middleton and are within “a groundwater recharge zone to the regional aquifer, which is used as [a] drinking water source”.

To pump and treat the contaminated site at 62 Ainslie St. S. and protect human health could cost $1.5 million upfront and $200,000 annually to operate, but first the ministry is being advised to monitor the site for two years to determine how extensive the contamination is, starting this spring. They are hoping the problem will go away on its own.

Meanwhile, the proposed new $16 million permanent treatment facility designed to eradicate TCE from the Middleton water supply system is not scheduled to be up and running until late 2010, or maybe 2011. But the ministry insists that the region is moving quickly to get an interim treatment process in place this year, which will use advanced oxidation to break down the TCE molecules.

The region, for its part, seems as interested in keeping everybody quiet as it is in keeping people informed. The region created the Middleton Update Newsletter and released Issue No. 1 in November 2005. However, there seems never to have been an Issue No. 2, although the region did conduct an open house meeting at Middleton in 2006.

The open house, which I was told would happen last fall, was rescheduled for February, but now appears it may occur on March 9. Details are not firmed up yet. The next time you hear business leaders complaining about costly social programs and high taxes, remind them that their profits often come at our expense –in more ways than one.


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