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

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including firefighting foams

An update today from the Department of National Defence says the federal government will be asked to provide funds to help clean up the North Bay Airport and Lee's Creek after years of contamination from polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) used in firefighter training.

It also says that tests show contamination remains below Health Canada’s drinking water guidelines.

DND hired a third-party environmental consultant last year to identify the sources of PFAS at the airbase and the Jack Garland Airport. Since April 2017, DND has sampled the well water of 91 homes near the base for perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS).

See: Only two of 91 homes tested have water contaminated with perfluoroalkylated substances says DND

Lee's Creek empties into Trout Lake, right across the bay from North Bay's drinking water intake.

And: City needs to be cautious with chemical leaking from Lee's Creek says expert

"While several sources were identified, the study found our past use of the airport lands for firefighter training (from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s) is the main source of PFAS on the airport property," says a news release.

"Accordingly, we will continue to support the community in addressing this issue and are working with the City of North Bay to see if federal funding is available to help remediate the airport property."

Warning signs have been posted along Lee's Creek advising people not to eat fish caught in the creek because of elevated contaminants posing a health issue. 

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks issued the fish consumption advisory for Lee’s Creek and Trout Lake in response to the PFAS levels identified in fish.

"While consumption advisories are not considered a permanent solution, they help mitigate risks to human health. The results of ongoing tests will help us better understand the impacts of PFAS in the area, and our options to remediate and manage them," says DND.

The release points to several actions taken since the discovery of the contamination in 2017.

They include:

  • Conducting over 20 drinking water quality and environmental investigations
  • Testing over 1,000 samples from drinking water, surface water, sewers, groundwater, sediment, and soil
  • Sampling the drinking water of 97 homes near the base
  • Immediately informing affected residents of two wells with PFAS levels above Health Canada’s recommended values
  • Providing affected residents with bottled water until their homes were connected to the municipal water supply
  • Monitoring and resampling the drinking water of up to 49 homes quarterly
  • Sending residents detailed reports on their quarterly water test results
  • Providing regular updates to the community on our residential well testing, environmental monitoring, studies, and next steps
  • Working closely with the local health unit, city, and province to assess and manage PFAS impacts in the area
  • Investing over $2 million to date in PFAS testing and prevention activities in North Bay

"The results of ongoing tests for residential wells, the base, and municipal water supplies remain below Health Canada’s drinking water guidelines and screening values, which are established at levels to protect the health of Canadians," continues the release. "To ensure they remain safe, we will continue to test and monitor PFAS levels over the coming year."

An ongoing sampling at nearby creeks and Trout Lake also remains below federal guidelines for environmental protection says DND.

"We continue to work with the City of North Bay, North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks on this issue, and will provide the community with regular updates."

Residents with questions about DND’s water testing program can contact 22 Wing/CFB North Bay Public Affairs at 705-494-2011, ext. 2822. Health-related questions about water quality can be directed to the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit at 705-474-1400, ext. 5260.

Information on federal drinking water guidelines and screening values for PFAS is available on Health Canada’s website.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including firefighting foams. They have been found in surface water and groundwater on and near 22 Wing/CFB North Bay property.

From the early 1970s until the closure of the base fire hall in the mid-1990s, DND used firefighting foams containing PFAS at the base and former training areas at the North Bay airport. These activities were conducted according to the accepted practices and regulations of the time.

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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