Enviromental group looking for answers on two hazardous sites

Faust resident would like some answers too

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Although Keepers of the Athabasca must be happy something is finally being done about a contaminated site in Faust, its pleasure is dulled by the fact it isn’t enough. Or that it’s not being done right. Or that feet are being dragged.

Meanwhile, people who live or own property near the former Faust Osmose (a wood treatment company long out of business) site are worried about their health and not satisfied with government assurances.

Alenda Schafer is one of those. She thinks she got sick two years in a row from contaminants in her flower bed, following a 2011 flood. She’s interested in selling her place, “but who would buy it if they know it’s contaminated?” she says. The government doesn’t want to (she asked). Meanwhile, the province’s plan is to ‘cap’ the site, rather than doing what to Schafer would be a proper clean up.

“I would like them to take it away,” she says. “Are they going to cap my place too?”

Spokesperson Jule Asterisk of Keepers said in a news release last week there are “highly toxic dioxin hotspots” outside the fenced area at the site. These are unmarked, she continued, and people are working on or around them. What’s more, a government health assessment of the site that was supposed to be released on Feb. 28 is nowhere to be seen. Asterisk said in any case its legitimacy is being questioned, due to the fact the only organization that Alberta Environment and Parks worked with or consulted with in its preparation was the County of Big Lakes. That leaves out First Nations, environmental groups and affected residents, she says.

The second item in the Mar. 26 Keepers release is an update on the Swan Hills waste treatment plant; more specifically, it’s about the environmental group’s continuing concern that airborne contamination questions have not been adequately answered. Nor has the plant operator done the additional testing that was requested.

Keepers has been doing its own testing. The release says sediment samples were taken from the bottom of Lesser Slave Lake near the mouth of the Swan River on March 12, as well as some near Faust. Stay tuned for results from those.

Schafer is living on a cabin with no power or running water on a part of her land that is further away from the contamination. She says she can’t get the government or Alberta Health Services to test her garden site or herself for evidence of the contamination she believes is there. And without that evidence, the government won’t buy her property.

“What am I supposed to do?” she says.

The Leader asked Alberta Environment and Parks to comment on the Keepers release. Here’s what was sent, by Kimberly van Nievenhuyse:
“Alberta Environment and Parks recognizes public concerns about the Osmose site. We have taken steps to protect local residents by fencing off the area and conducting further studies. It’s important to note that no work has been done on the site within the fence for some time. In addition, work done last year on tree-clearing was not undertaken near any of the sample points displaying high dioxin concentrations and is not ongoing at this time.

“With regard to the health assessment report, Alberta Environment and Parks is currently reviewing the report and preparing to publish it on the Environmental Site Assessment Repository (ESAR). When dealing with human health and ecological integrity, ensuring the accuracy and precision of the report is critical as it will determine the next steps for remediation work on the site. Alberta Environment and Parks is committed to ensuring local residents have up-to-date information and as such, we will be holding a public information session shortly after the release of the report.”

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