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New study looking at industrial waste in Canatara Park

Cathy Dobson Sarnia is waiting for the results of a $120,000 study to determine if contaminants are migrating underground from a former landfill in Canatara Park.
Photo of Lake Chipican, courtesy of Dan Wever

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia is waiting for the results of a $120,000 study to determine if contaminants are migrating underground from a former landfill in Canatara Park.

If the consultants conclude the old dump is leaking then more mitigation work will be needed, says David Jackson, the city’s director of engineering.

This composite map shows the location of industrial waste buried in a former landfill at Canatara Park.Journal Graphic

A 69-acre landfill under the park’s south side accepted municipal and industrial waste from the 1920s to the 1960s and was capped with a metre of soil in 2001.

After oil and diesel fuel leaking from the site threatened to pollute Lake Chipican, a steel wall was installed underground as a barrier, and permanent monitoring wells added to collect and pump out the industrial waste.

Over the years, an extension of the sheet pile wall was added to help protect the lake. Pumping as much as 5,000 litres of oil a month out of the collection wells is not unusual, said Jackson.

That’s enough oil to fill 25 bathtubs, and over a year enough to fill a gasoline tanker truck, with oil left over.

Now, city staff suspect something new is afoot because oil levels in the monitoring wells are changing.

A series of 191 boreholes was drilled throughout the site this spring to pull up samples, analyze the situation, and make recommendations to council about additional containment work. Guelph-based RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists have been hired.

Meanwhile, a man who grew up in Point Edward and has family in Sarnia is concerned about the kind of contaminants migrating toward the lake.

Ed Das remembers playing in the old landfill site as a kid in the 1970s and seeing industrial drums poking up through the ground.

A chalk line marks a new borehole site in the parking lot near the Children's Animal Farm.Journal Photo

“I had an uncle who was a supervisor with Polysar in the ‘50s and he was responsible for cleaning out the massive vats that contained all kinds of things,” said Das, who now lives in Kitchener.

“He told me it was put in drums and buried at the Michigan landfill.”

Das still visits Canatara frequently and in July noticed new boreholes in the parking lot near the Children’s Animal Farm.

Worried something was seeping from the ground, he contacted the city and was told each borehole is stuffed with Bentonite, a substance used to prevent leachate migration from landfills.

“I was sitting on a bench at the south end of Lake Chipican, next to one of the wells, and the area reeked of oil. I opened one of the lids and was immediately overcome by the fumes,” he said.

Das said Sarnia should “do it right” and remediate the site.

“If it isn’t cleaned up, the hazard will still be there 20 or 30 years from now and no one will remember whatever it is they are pumping out of the ground.

“This is the community I grew up in and I’m still attached to it,” said Das. “I’ve always been frustrated that the people who made the mess in Sarnia did not take the responsibility afterward to help clean it up.”

Jackson said any kind of permanent cleanup would cost “tens of millions.”

“It was a very large landfill and the cost to remediate would be beyond what we could pay. That’s why our strategy has always been containment,” he said.

A staff report based on the consultants’ findings is expected to go to city council this fall.

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