Residents want answers about ongoing TCE contamination in Cambridge

By  | April 13, 2017 | 10 Comments | Filed under: About Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Tracy Hipel of Cambridge is seen in his backyard earlier this year. The shed behind him houses a soil vapour extraction unit. He has to ensure clear access to the shed at all times as an employee visits the shed twice a week. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The city has to take ownership of the residents … we didn’t create this problem’

By Kate Bueckert, CBC News Posted: Apr 12, 2017 4:28 PM ETLast Updated: Apr 12, 2017 4:28 PM ET

Like many people, Tracy Hipel has a shed in his backyard.

But unlike others, Hipel didn’t put it there and he can’t really use it to store anything.

The shed, which is powered 24/7, houses a soil vapour extraction unit that pulls toxins from dry wells dug in neighbours’ yards.

There are about 75 homes in the Bishop Street area of Preston in Cambridge with sheds in their backyards.

The sheds are needed to keep Hipel and his neighbours safe. In 2004, they found out the chemical trichlorethylene (TCE) had made its way into the groundwater, making the ground and many of the homes in the area toxic.

“The shed … it’s my lifeline to be able to live in this house safely. Without it, levels in the house would get to the point where we would have to be moved out,” Hipel said.

Hipel is one of many residents in the area who said he is fed up with a lack of information about efforts to clean up the soil and water under his house.

He said a worker stops by the shed twice a week to ensure everything is working property and he can’t restrict access to his backyard.

He also said every time he receives an assessment from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), he has to apply to have the assessment reconsidered and lowered. So far, he has had to appeal his property assessment three times.

Northstar in Cambridge

The former Northstar Aerospace helicopter parts manufacturing facility at 695 Bishop Street North, as seen in this 2011 Google StreetView image. (Google StreetView)

Contamination exceeded allowable limits

TCE is a solvent used to clean or degrease metal parts. It has been classified a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is regulated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Northstar Aerospace had a helicopter parts manufacturing facility at 695 Bishop Street North in Cambridge from 1981 to 2009, during which time the company used TCE during the production process.

Today’s regulations for disposing industrial waste did not exist at the time and some TCE made its way into the groundwater.

“It is unknown how often TCE waste was discharged onto the ground and in what quantities,” a May 2011 provincial report to the Region of Waterloo said.

The TCE discharged would have stopped around 1986 or 1987 when new rules for hazardous waste came into effect.

Groundwater testing in the area in November 2004 revealed the contamination had migrated offsite and by July 2005 the Ministry of the Environment had been told levels of TCE in the Bishop Street community exceeded allowable limits.

A total of 350 homes and four businesses were affected and, according to a 2006 report by Valco Consultants for the City of Cambridge, the contamination plume extended to the Grand River.

The TCE “evaporated and migrated through the porous soils and has penetrated basements through any faults in the walls or floors,” the report said.

During immediate clean-up efforts in 2005, some residents were removed from their homes for several weeks.

The Morning Edition – K-W
Contaminated Cambridge: Residents want answers 13 years later
00:00 06:34

No estimate for remediation timeline

Remediation and monitoring of the area is ongoing, said Amy Shaw, the district manager for the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change based in Guelph.

They perform annual indoor air monitoring in more than 400 homes to ensure levels of TCE are below acceptable levels, with the most recent testing being completed in February.

‘All we can commit to is that we’re going to continue to monitor and mitigate for as long as necessary. We do not have an estimate on how long that will be.” – Amy Shaw, district manager for the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change

Annual samples are taken from the groundwater, the surface water and from the former Northstar property, where a groundwater extraction system is in place to treat water to acceptable levels before discharging it into the municipal storm sewer.

Shaw said the ministry has commissioned a consultant report on the area to see where remediation efforts stand.

The Valco Consultants report had suggested remediation could take 10 years, but Shaw said they have no timeline for when the area will be cleaned up.

“It has been 10 years and groundwater contamination still exists in the Bishop Street community and all we can commit to is that we’re going to continue to monitor and mitigate for as long as necessary,” she said. “We do not have an estimate on how long that will be.”

Property assessments for 13 homes lowered

This year, Hipel helped his neighbours get their properties reassessed under MPAC.

‘The city has to take ownership of the residents. We live in the city, we didn’t create this problem.’ – Resident Tracy Hipel

He pointed to the 2006 Valco Consultants report, which said the impact on the value of homes in the Bishop Street community could range from 15 to 30 per cent.

Karen Russell, the director of valuation and customer relations for MPAC, said they received 14 requests for consideration, of which 13 homes had a 10 per cent reduction applied to their 2016 property assessments.

“When assessing the residential properties on the Bishop Street community, MPAC considers the local real estate market including any recent sales as well as the key features of the property, including state and condition and location,” Russell said.

Anyone who feels their assessment is wrong can apply to have it reconsidered.

Tracy Hipel air quality testing

This document shows air quality testing in Tracy Hipel’s Cambridge home in 2005. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends an indoor air guideline for residential settings of 2 micrograms per cubic meters. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

‘We’re still living this’

When contacted by CBC News, City of Cambridge officials directed all questions to MPAC and the Ministry of the Environment.

Hipel said there hasn’t been a public meeting on the issue in five years and his calls and emails to city officials don’t get returned. There have been newsletters sent to residents to provide some updates.

“The problem is, we’re still living this. The people who still have the SVE (soil vapour extraction) sheds are still going through this every day. We live this every day,” Hipel said.

“The city has to take ownership of the residents. We live in the city, we didn’t create this problem.”

Public meeting this spring

Hipel has sat on advisory boards, an environmental registry tribunal and regularly attempts to contact officials from the city to the provincial government.

“A lot of the neighbours are to the point now where we want these gone,” Hipel said of the sheds.

“I’m the person who seems to step up and now I’m stepping up again for people because they really don’t know who to turn to.”

“I’ve reached out to everybody that I should ask for help, and I’ve sort of had a turned blind eye to every question I’ve asked and just can’t seem to get help from anybody.”

The Ministry of the Environment is planning a public meeting at the end of May to go over the newest consultant report, which Shaw anticipated they would get back in March. The date and location has yet to be determined.



10 Responses to Residents want answers about ongoing TCE contamination in Cambridge

    u April 14, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    This is a disgusting on-going situation. Why is it when the City makes a mistake we have to pay for it – possibly with our lives. I am truly sorry for this situation but now that Monteiro has cancer – possibly from this situation in his area – he might think different about what should be or should have been done. Why would the City ignore this dangerous situation? Don’t understand the stupidity of not rectifying the matter & having the Co. pay for the removal or moving the people to safer homes. These people have the right to protection!!!
    Good luck with your fight on this matter.
    As more & more of us are finding out – you cannot fight City Hall & especially with the present Mayor – he is only interested in himself & a legacy that is going to mess up this lovely old city.

    u April 18, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Tracy – attend the Council meeting tonight – to have your say on how the 2018 Election is run. We are aiming for old-fashioned paper Ballots where we can track names/who voted and follow the Ballot boxes to their destination.
    Show up – bring all your friends/neighbours to show your disgust with online/telephone/internet voting which is easily hacked.
    You must try & vote someone in that will listen to you people. Your situation has gone on too long & no one is paying attention any more.
    Northstar just think by monitoring your sheds they have done their job – no….

    Brett Cross April 18, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    After reading this I have to wonder about two things. Why are people still living in this toxic area? What about their children? Is it about a clean up or money? This has not been addressed for years, yet now they are motivated. If the pollution in the ground is so bad people should not eat from their gardens nor sit outside. Myself, I would move. To hell with the cost or possible loss. My family is more important than anything. We have pollution in Galt from many old factory’s I would not go near.

    u April 19, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    You are maybe right Brett – but then again the people we vote in should be doing their job & correcting this.
    They should be buying up all these homes – tear them down & do what should be done to the soil. They City allowed it to happen on their watch – Craig the Mayor should be held responsible. A lot of these families just don’t have the funds to take off & leave with nothing.
    The City is responsible to go back on Northstar to pay for the damage they have done. So where is the Mayor – Councillors – the Mayor only spends our money on DUMB things like the BRIDGE TO NOWHERE or a MULTI MILLION DOLLAR re-fix on the Post Office for ANOTHER LIBRARY – really = so Brett call your Councillor to help these poor people get their lives back. Help them – don’t condemn them – not their fault. Craig is useless!!!

    Maggie April 29, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    Tracy – sorry you are not getting much response – but you know when it doesn’t affect you – people don’t care. You need Craig/Council to step up & resolve this. NOW! BEFORE ANY ONE ELSE DIES FROM THE FUMES/ETC.
    I think you should get all people involved together – have a spokesperson at next Council meeting – make sure T.V. coverage is there and let the people of Cambridge know what is going on. Also if you are representing a “group” you get more time to speak. Maybe you can direct your talk to Monteiro who now has kidney cancer and maybe in other places, so he just might be more receptive this time around.

    Children should not have to suffer.
    If the Mayor can spend 12-15 million on an unneeded Post Office & $800,000. on an old building – I think they should buy up all your contaminated home & move you somewhere healthy. Just the fact you have those sheds in your back yard – SAYS SOMETHING IS WRONG.
    Good luck Tracy – but go to Council – have a crowd with you get on T.V. GO GO IT.

    Tom Vann May 17, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    We have a terrible air pollution problem here in Preston from the old Butler building. Our M.P. May and M.P.P. McGarry seems to have stepped up to the plate for us and appears to be helping us. It is too early to see if this problem has been solved but hats off to McGarry’s crew for putting forth an effort. Gratitude will fall freely but so will criticism if this factory continues poisoning us. Thanks to our MPP today.

    alan marshall May 18, 2017 at 7:13 am

    The Ontario Ministry of Environment are beyond hopeless. They are an underfunded, captured regulator. Captured as in captured by industry which can and do freely outspend them in court. While there are horrible examples around the province such as the mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows and ongoing Dioxin contamination in Elmira (creek sediments, fish, biota & people), you guys on a day to day basis are likely the most unfortunate in the province. I believe that the Bishop St. contamination and disaster with TCE will go down in history as the largest and worst mass poisoning of human beings both in Waterloo Region and in Ontario. As shameful as diverting a Dioxin contaminated creek into an in-ground swimming pool used by children is (Elmira); far more people have had their health compromised in Cambridge with TCE simply for the sake of inexpensive toxic waste disposal for industry.

    Tracy Hipel May 18, 2017 at 11:48 am

    The first meeting in 6 years will be held on wednesday may 31 at fairview Mennonite home at 2pm till 4pm and 6pm till 8pm
    Presentation on remedial options analysis by dillion consulting.

    I will be at the 6pm meeting

  9. Debbie Duff Vitez May 19, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    Interesting that it’s Dillon.. I have a report here that cost approx $40,000.00 dollars to have them test my house..
    They informed me that they couldn’t do another test, as they had been warned if they continue to work with the Vitez Family they would jeopardize any further work with the city of Cambridge..

    Tom Vann May 20, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    That is how the city kills good things. Just like they did to Alex in 2010. Do it or your done. If the city shot a bullet from a 270 gun 10 feet from the target called moral values they would miss it. Since Dyke has come on board staff are not happy doing certain proper things. Frank must be scared his past might bite him with the fee cost to complain motion. What do ya got ta hide boys? The shadow knows. I am heading to the courts to find out who called the law about my visits. This should be good. I only hope it was a councillor or Dyke. In my next book I concentrate on corruption in city halls. London, Montreal, Fergus, Hamilton, and Toronto have given me plenty of material. I cornered an ex bomb squad leader to hold onto my explosive materials in case I got shot so he can expose it. I have stuff from 10 years ago. Funny, I’m looking at my Charlton Heston poster about prying something from a smoking cold hand. It must have been a flashback…I just read about a lady teacher going to jail because of her dealings with students. Where the heck were they when I was a menace? Well I’m off to break some girls heart. Smooch.

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