Big Lakes County determined to develop ‘Toxic Park’

Jule Asterisk

In an open house in Faust on April 26, local residents are led around a series of placards ringing the Royal Purple hall by Alberta Environment and Parks (AE&P) representatives. These show the history of wood preserving at the old Osmose site, which lies directly next to Lesser Slave Lake. They also show the ‘chemicals of potential concern’, maps of the areas where these exceed guidelines, and the extent of the contamination that still exists here today.

Trinity, with her husband and two young children live south of the Osmose Site. Trinity is a former industrial insurance broker and current massage therapist. “Based on the meetings I have attended as well as the reports I have reviewed released by AE&P, I am concerned for the general public in our area. Unfortunately there are hotspots outside the fenced area. Although they are being monitored, I have personally witnessed individuals tracking through hotspots and potentially spreading dangerous contaminates. This needs to be addressed! This is practically my back yard and my children are at risk.”

The Site-Specific Risk Assessment and Exposure Control Plan (of the) Former Alberta Osmose Wood Preservers Plant (Plan) was commissioned by Alberta Environment after Big Lakes County proposed a park at this toxic location, and provides the placards’ information. Some errors definitely exist in this report: the site is not ‘2 kilometres east of Faust’, but right in the hamlet, and more hurtfully, the two properties to the south are not ‘vacant’; people live there.

Authors of the Plan said that any errors are based on information they were given (in these errors, by Big Lakes County). The Plan examines nine previous engineering reports relating to this site, starting in 1989, before dioxin contamination was even suspected, and ending in 2009. Strangely, the most recent 2015 engineering report was not included in the review.

The Plan shows three hotspots that are outside the fenced area. One of these dioxin hotspots is right in the middle of the road, which was just cleared of trees by Big Lakes County last month, with equipment and people traversing it. Exposure to dioxins, arsenic, PAHs, PCP, and other chemicals is still not controlled at these locations. Of the trees that were cleared, some were burned on site, and some were hauled away to be sold as firewood. The uptake of contaminants into vegetation is considered to be ‘minimal’ but was not measured. It’s worth noting that the dioxins found here are some of the most dangerous known, with exceedances measured between 615 and 50,000 toxic equivalency quotient.

Placards at the open house terminate in a couple of giant identical maps produced by Big Lakes County, describing their vision for a ‘Toxic Park’. Councilor Robert Nygaard of Big Lakes County and other firefighters left the open house early to put out a grass fire next to his campground, just west of the Osmose site.

These maps have trails, washrooms, and two ‘proposed parking lots’. Exposure control of the hotspots outside the fence will be accomplished by placing ‘speed bumps’ on top of them. One of the proposed ‘parking lots’ on the map is covered in green masking tape: it is shown on the previous placards to be the very worst area of contamination, and likely Big Lakes County will have to accept that this area will remain fenced, and not part of public access at ‘Toxic Park’. Public activities on the site will have to be day-use only (no camping), no play park, no cooking or fires, no construction of buildings, no digging, no farming or harvesting of edibles, and no use of surface water. Suggestions are for raised walking trails to keep people away from the contamination, with signs to keep people on these trails, and clay caps with topsoil and plants on top of the worst of the contamination. The site will need to be monitored twice annually, and since AE&P maintains ownership, we can only hope that it is them and not Big Lakes County doing the monitoring.

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