Northstar contamination area too small for study into deaths and illness, residents told

By  | April 8, 2010 | 0 Comments | Filed under: About Trichloroethylene (TCE)

This ran in the KW Record.. comments invited below

April 07, 2010

CAMBRIDGE — Some residents again called for a health study into all the deaths and illness in the chemically contaminated Bishop Street neighbourhood at a public meeting Wednesday night.

But environment and health officials said the study area would be too small to produce a statistically reliable review of the health effects of breathing trichloroethylene vapours seeping into some 500 homes in east Preston.

“I think you’re giving a false sense of security here,” said Tracy Hipel, who grew up in his mother’s house on Grand Valley Drive, said during a question session during the update on the contamination under the former Northstar and GE Canada factories on Bishop Street.

“You’ve got a perfect chance to do something to see if this stuff is doing it to us.”

Debbie Vitez also called for a health study, because 71 people in the King-Pine-Grand Valley contamination area have fallen ill or died from cancers, Parkinson disease or brain tumours. She doesn’t believe health officials who say TCE isn’t to blame.

“This is not true data when there are so many people in a one-block area … you can’t continue to ignore it.”

Waterloo Region’s associate medial officer of health, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, repeatedly explained that even though TCE is considered a cancer risk, the Preston study area is too small to produce results of any statistical value.

A third of the population in general will develop cancer, she said. The goal is to reduce exposure of people to TCE to reduce risk. A study won’t change that effort.

Talk about all the people dying in neighbouring homes initially upset Kim Harvey, who had a TCE vapour collection system in the basement of her Bishop Street house

“I’ve really got mixed feelings, after hearing about all the health concerns,” she said on her way out of the meeting.

After the explanation that there were too few people make a valid study — and so many people die of cancer anyway — she was less worried about where she lives.

Chris Pfohl of Queenston Road, wants a study done groundwater seeping from the bedrock into the Grand River near his house — groundwater he suspects is TCE contaminated and being ingested by local wildlife.

His dad, Dan Pfohl worried the new tougher TCE exposure thresholds would hurt resale values of more homes. If more of the area is deemed contaminated, he expects banks will start refusing to write mortgages in the area any more.

Since the industrial degreaser was found in the groundwater under the neighbourhood in 2005, the companies have worked to mitigate the chemical vapours seeping into the basements of 196 homes.

Northstar has started a cleanup by pumping another chemical into the ground to destroy the TCE contamination. Company officials say it’s working, but the provincial Environment Ministry hasn’t finished reviewing the first set of test results.

Next door, GE is running test program to determine the best way to clean up the TCE in the ground under that factory.

In December, provincial standards about exposure to TCE were lowered, meaning the study area will expand and more homes on the fringes will likely need vapour mitigation, said Phil Shewer, of the Guelph environment ministry office.

More air samples will be taken in winter — when concentrations are highest — to determine future work, he said. And the ministry reviewing the Northstar-GE clean up plan, to account for the lower TCE exposure thresholds.

He said nobody would guess at how long the clean up will take.

Roger Steurnagel of King Street feared the new, tougher TCE standards would make the clean up unending and “kill Northstar. It will never be able to meet the new standards … it’s going to drive them out of town.”

And if the risk to health was so small, as officials said, why isn’t the province trying to clean up all other stuff that was giving a third people cancer?

“This is a little problem. What’s the big problem?”



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