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Council awards $5M engineering contract in first phase of leaked chemical clean-up agreement with DND

DND will provide up to $19.4 million over six years toward the airport PFAS cleanup, including study, removal and remediation while the City’s share of costs is three per cent of actuals up to a maximum of $600,000
20191216 lees creek turl 1 crop
PFAS leaked into Lees Creek from firefighter training at Jack Garland Airport between the early 1970s and mid-1990s.

North Bay City Council has approved a nearly $5 million contract for engineering consulting services associated with the remediation of per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) at Jack Garland Airport.

In July, the City of North Bay and the Department of National Defence (DND) reached a $20-million contribution agreement related to the leakage of chemicals at the local airport. PFAS are manufactured substances found in many consumer and industrial products, including firefighting foam. Past use of the airport lands for firefighter training between the early 1970s and mid-1990s has been identified as the main source of PFAS on the airport property. Although firefighting foam containing PFAS was an accepted practice and was in accordance with regulations at that time, its use is very limited today.

The $5 million contract — of which the City's share is approximately $150,000 — awarded  Tuesday evening to Jacobs Consultancy Canada Inc. will be funded through the agreement that stipulates the DND will provide up to $19.4 million over six years toward the airport PFAS cleanup, including study, removal and remediation. The City’s share of costs is three per cent of actuals up to a maximum of $600,000 over the same period. Additionally, the agreement allows the City to submit a second proposal in the future for additional costs.

In discussions earlier this year, both Coun. Mark King and Coun. Scott Robertson wondered why the City was on the hook for any portion of the cost at all.

“This contract marks the beginning of our PFAS cleanup efforts at the airport and we are extremely pleased that this work will be proceeding,” said Mayor Al McDonald. “We’ve worked hard over the past few years, always with the health and safety of our residents top of mind, to reach an agreement with DND and to expedite the remediation process.” 

See related: Federal funding sought to clean up airport and Lee's Creek

In order to expedite the remediation process, the City also completed its own environmental investigations into PFAS soil and groundwater contamination on the airport site. The scope of the engineering work will include environmental assessment, site-specific risk assessment, development of remediation objectives, treatability studies and remediation design. The work is scheduled to begin within the next month, will continue into 2022, and the remediation process is slated for 2023.

Since 2017, the City states it has been working collaboratively with DND, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP), and the Health Unit to support ongoing testing and monitoring for PFAS in Trout Lake, Lees Creek and residential wells in close proximity to the North Bay Jack Garland Airport lands.

The municipality's source of drinking water is drawn just hundreds of metres from where Lees Creek empties into Trout Lake. PFAS have been detected in the soil, surface water, groundwater, and fish on the 22 Wing/CFB North Bay property, and nearby downstream locations.

According to Health Canada, adverse environmental and health effects of PFAS have been observed and they have been shown to pose a risk to the Canadian environment. The City states the level of PFAS detected in the municipal water supply remains significantly lower than drinking water screening values set out by Health Canada and the interim guidance level provided by the MECP. A long-standing drinking water advisory for Lees Creek remains in place as well as a fish consumption advisory for fish from the creek issued by the MECP.

Coun. Chris Mayne, who is the chair of council's infrastructure and operations committee, said Tuesday "one of the biggest concerns of this term of Council has been the issue of PFAS at the Jack Garland Airport and base, the residue leftover from the Department of National Defence's activities. This begins the process that will end some of our studies and work towards providing a remediation plan for the City and our property in that area, specifically."

See also: Homeowners on bottled water as testing continues

And: Don't drink water or eat fish from this city waterway

Mayne noted the trend-line of PFAS contamination in the watercourse that trickles down to Trout Lake is down from the 2019 level of 60 parts per billion to 50 in this year's studies.

King said residents affected by the situation deserve action and observed MP Anthony Rota was instrumental in moving the process forward while Deputy Mayor Tanya Vrebosch thanked Mayor Al McDonald and City staff for their advocacy efforts.