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Feds pushed on airport contamination

Apr 02, 2012

Federal authorities are being pressed to reveal what they know about the increasingly worrying contamination at Hamilton’s airport and to offer their expertise in the cleanup of the PFOS (perfluorooctane sulphonate) that has polluted the Welland River and the Lake Niapenco reservoir in the Binbrook Conservation Area.  An environmental petition formally accepted by the federal auditor-general last week also demands improvements to the PFOS Virtual Elimination Act adopted by Parliament in 2008 and the identification of safe exposure levels in the light of recent studies linking the chemical to ADHD, breast cancer, kidney disease and blocking of the effects of childhood vaccinations.

The latter disturbing effect on the human immune system was revealed earlier this year when the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study showing reduced response to vaccinations in humans carrying average levels of PFOS.

“Prenatal and postnatal PFOS exposures, as well as postnatal PFOA exposure, were associated with increased odds of antibody concentrations below the protective level,” write the authors. “If the associations are causal, the clinical importance of our findings is therefore that PFC exposure may increase a child’s risk for not being protected against diphtheria and tetanus, despite a full schedule of vaccinations.”

The 5000-word petition was filed last month by Dr Joe Minor, the Environment Hamilton biologist whose testing a year ago provided the first public confirmation that the source of the chemical is the fire suppression practice pad at the airport. The Canadian legislation on environmental petitions requires responses from affected ministries within 120 days, although those deadlines can be extended.

The petitions permitted under section 22 of the Auditor General Act provide “a formal means for Canadians to bring their concerns about environmental issues to the attention of federal ministers and departments and to obtain a response to their concerns”. Minor’s document directs questions to Health Canada, Environment Canada, and Transport Canada.

The latter ministry is asked to “catalogue the quantity of PFCs that were purchased and brought to” the airport, in order to end the costly “Sherlock Holmes style investigations” by airport, city and provincial officials. Minor also wants the feds to use their research facilities to determine how much PFOS was in various brands of fire fighting foam sprays used at the airport over the past quarter century. 

“Transport Canada is in charge of regulations regarding what types of materials must be stored and or used at airports,” he points out. “Certainly the public interest in knowing what PFCs are being released into the environment greatly outweighs the questionable practice of allowing “trade secrets” to disguise environmental pollution.”

City council agreed in December to pay half of an $80,000 study being undertaken by consultants hired by Tradeport International, the private company that has a 40-year lease on the city-owned airport. Initial examination found extreme levels of PFOS near the fire training area and confirmed that the chemical has entered at least the nearby groundwater.

Minor’s petition emphasizes the growing list of health risks being linked to PFOS and the larger family of perfluorinated chemicals. He demands that Health Canada establish a “tolerable daily intake” that can be used by provincial environmental officials in determining if fish are safe to eat, rather than relying on guidelines from American jurisdictions.

With respect to the “virtual elimination” legislation approved by Ottawa in 2008, Minor notes that it “specifically omits any management actions or regulations to reduce (much less virtually eliminate) PFOS” and quotes from the Canada Gazette notice that baldly states:

“The Perfluorooctane Sulfonate Virtual Elimination Act does not require any further management action that would include determining the lowest level of release or the development and implementation of regulations to virtually eliminate PFOS from the environment. Therefore, no incremental costs will be incurred by the Government, the industry or the public as a result of the addition of PFOS and its salts to the Virtual Elimination List.”

Minor demands a formal review of the legislation to make it “meaningful” and “actually move Canada towards virtual elimination.” He also challenges federal authorities to share the expertise with Hamilton that they’ve acquired in tackling at least three other contaminated Canadian sites, and take steps to proactively identify other locations where past use of PFOS warrants investigation.


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