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Packed house for session on local PFAS drinking water concerns

So many showed up to take in the information session and to share their concerns about the future of North Bay's supply of drinking water that organizers were on the verge of asking folks to leave so they would not breach the fire code

Over 100 people attended a public information session on drinking water pollutants PFAS — also known as forever chemicals — co-hosted by the Trout Lake Conservation Association, Northwatch, and Nipissing Environmental Watch in the auditorium of the North Bay Public Library on Wednesday evening.

So many showed up to take in the information session and to share their concerns about the future of North Bay's supply of drinking water that organizers were on the verge of asking folks to leave so they would not breach the fire code.

See related: City reacts as EPA reduces safe levels of PFAS in drinking water

In 2017, the Department of National Defence (DND) admitted Perfluoralkylated substances (PFAS) from the past use of fire-fighting foams at CFB North Bay and Jack Garland Aiport had been detected in Trout Lake, Lees Creek, the airport, the base, and monitoring wells located near CFB North Bay. PFAS are manmade substances found in a variety of consumer and industrial products such as adhesives, cosmetics, cleaning products, and in specialized chemical applications, such as fire-fighting foams.

See also: Work starts soon on city's PFAS contamination problem

Since 2017, the City of North Bay 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 near the Jack Garland Airport lands.

Many in attendance wondered if enough is being done to protect the source of North Bay's drinking water. The hosts have many questions about the remediation process and are seeking more transparency as far as its progress.

The team of advocates had a simple goal on the evening for what is a confusing, daunting, yet important subject: To share information and assist locals in becoming familiar with the issues and terminology related to PFAS and the contamination of Lees Creek and Trout Lake.

The guest speakers from the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Toxics-Free Great Lakes Binational Network appeared by video call and introduced and explained key concerns about PFAS while the local speakers summarized the history and status of the contamination of Lees Creek and Delaney Bay.

The crowd also heard emotional and poignant accounts of the devastation the PFAS contamination has had on some local families and businesses.

A helpful introduction to the local PFAS situation and the potentially dire outcomes which lie ahead is found in a TVO short documentary by the Water Brothers. The clip below includes interviews with Councillor Chris Mayne and City of North Bay Senior Environment and Facilities Engineer Karin Pratte:

See related: Time for Ottawa to protect Canadians from 'forever chemicals,' toxics experts say

Liza Vandermeer, Trout Lake Conservation Association member was "really pleased by the turnout. I think it indicates how seriously people in North Bay and the surrounding area are taking this. The agencies have been trying to downplay it and say there's nothing to worry about but clearly, there's a great deal of public interest.

"We're all volunteers, we're doing this in our spare time because we're concerned about the environment and concerned about people's health and, our community. The agencies are the ones who do this for a job. They are accountable to us as taxpayers and they should be coming forward and sharing the information they've collected. And, if they don't have the necessary information, they should be doing more work to get it and share it."

In the past few days, the group learned the City of North Bay will be holding its own event surrounding the PFAS situation by late spring. The hosts also discussed plans to request future public meetings with DND, the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, and the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.

Vandermeer worked for over 30 years in the environmental field before continuing to follow her passion in this advocacy role. The participation and sharing of ideas witnessed during the session is vindication to her that they are on the right track.

"I think the agencies are assuming if they keep it swept under the rug nobody is going to show any interest. Tonight indicates how badly a lot of the agencies have read the room. You know, we haven't heard a peep from the new medical officer of health. We haven't heard a peep from anybody from the City to talk about our drinking water and the implications for the future.

"We know that they've done testing on the municipal water treatment plant to see what upgrades would need to be made. We're not hearing anything about that. We know from that video clip with Chris Mayne, the cost of retrofitting our municipal water treatment plant is going to be over $40 million. Where's the money coming from that? When is it going to happen? Are they going to wait until these new standards are brought in? Or are they going to take proactive action? There are a lot of questions."

In 2017, testing on Lees Creek showed the waterway was polluted with PFAS from the military base located just upstream. The creek empties into Trout Lake just a few hundred yards from the city's water treatment plant. A long-standing drinking water advisory for Lees Creek remains in place and there is a consumption advisory for fish from the creek, issued by the MECP

In July 2021, the City of North Bay reached an agreement with the Department of National Defense (DND) that binds the federal government to fund the majority of costs related to the remediation of PFAS at Jack Garland Airport.  

On June 15, 2022, the U.S.-based Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new advisories regarding some per- and polyfluororalkyl substances (PFAS), which significantly reduces the safe level of these microscopic chemicals in drinking water from the previous standard.

Health Canada initiated public consultations on a draft objective of 30 nanograms per litre (ng/L) for PFAS substances in Canadian drinking water supplies, which is lower than the interim advice value of 70ng/L set by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP).

In February 2023, the City of North Bay revealed water test results show concentrations of PFAS of approximately 60 nanograms per litre, which is above Health Canada’s proposed objective. Per the news release, "As PFAS is a contaminant that is being studied extensively, guidelines and objectives are continuously developing based on new information. In Ontario, drinking water requirements are ultimately established by the provincial government."

The remediation efforts are imminent, according to a late-February news release from the City of North Bay stating the scope of work includes the removal and treatment of the most contaminated soil, the injection of absorptive material in identified hot spots at the site's boundary to treat groundwater before it exits, and the placement of absorptive material at exit locations to prevent PFAS in surface water from downstream migration.

“The development of a PFAS remediation plan has been a complex undertaking that began more than two years ago," said Mayor Peter Chirico. "We are extremely pleased that cleanup efforts at the airport site are now about to get underway. Our priority throughout this process is and has been the health and safety of our residents.”

Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a full-time news reporter for, focusing on local politics and sharing our community's compelling human interest stories.
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