Q – Is the current Verte development safe? Is there a health hazard?
A – The Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) Report (February 26, 2019) stated the following:
“The Board’s primary concern in these appeals has been the safety of the residents who live in the communities on and around the site.”
Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the EAB has concluded that “the historical contamination remaining on the site does not pose a danger to the residents and other people who use the area. Most of the contaminated material on the site is buried in and beneath berms, which prevents the contamination from posing a risk. While more cleanup and remedial work is required, it is not an emergency as indicated by the Director, Regional Compliance, Red Deer-North Saskatchewan Region, Operations Division, Alberta Environment and Parks.”
“The community is safe and there is no health hazard. The soil and groundwater in the Verte development has been tested and found to be within Alberta Environment and Parks’ guidelines for residential land use. These guidelines are very protective of the most sensitive humans including infants and toddlers. Alberta Environment and Parks reviewed all the sampling data for this area and issued a Remediation Certificate. There is no health hazard remaining from the prior land use.”
Q – Why did the Government of Alberta issue the Environmental Orders?
A – We were at a loss to understand this action by the Government of Alberta and as a result we appealed the Orders to the Environmental Appeals Board. The Alberta Environmental Appeals Board is an independent expert tribunal appointed by the Minister of Environment and Parks to review specific issues.
After its review, the Environmental Appeals Board Report said “The Director’s demand to immediately remove the contaminated material from the site caused the Board significant concern. The Director’s requirement for immediate removal would have resulted in trucking potentially very large amounts of the contaminated material through the residential communities and on public highways to a landfill. In the Board’s view, disturbing the material on the site, which has been present for over 30 years, and trucking the material off the site would have posed a greater risk, particularly to the residents, than leaving it in place and taking the time to develop a well-considered plan and properly execute the plan to deal with the site. This potential for an increased risk to the residents is why the Board issued stays of the orders”.
Q – When will the fencing and signs come down?
A – The fencing and signs around the site and the adjacent Greenbelt were put up when Alberta Health Services issued Orders in March 2018 based on information provided by Alberta Environment. In their February 2019 report, the Environmental Appeals Board said “the Board sees no reason to continue excluding the public from using the Greenbelt, south of the Overlanders Community, for recreational purposes as they have in the past. However, this decision is ultimately up to Alberta Health Services.” Ultimately any decisions about the fencing and signs will have to be made by Alberta Health Services.
Q – What is the process to cleanup the site?
A – Cleaning up contaminated sites follows a prescribed process. First, contaminants are identified and then located in the ground through a delineation program. Most contaminants have guideline values assigned to be protective of human health. Any that do not have a guideline value, such as dioxins, go through a scientific process called site specific risk assessment which is used to calculate an appropriate guideline. This is the same process used for all the contaminants with assigned guideline values.
At locations where the soil or groundwater exceeds the guideline value, either physical remediation work is required or exposure control and risk management must be used. At Verte Homesteader, both physical remediation and exposure control will be used. In the residential areas where human health guideline exceedances remain, soil will be excavated and disposed at an approved landfill. The berm on Parcel Y and Parcel X are capped with clean soil to prevent human contact and will be risk managed under exposure control.
Q – Will Alberta Environment approve the remediation and allow residential development?
A – The Minister’s Orders establish the process that Cherokee and Alberta Environment and Parks are to follow to complete remediation to conditions that are acceptable. This means that the environmental conditions will be protective of human health for the future land use, which for this site means residential use. The process that has been established comes from the Alberta EPEA and various Alberta guidance documents dealing with contaminated sites.
Q – When will the remediation be complete?
A – Under the Minister’s Order, the remediation is to be complete by March 2020.
Q – The Minister’s Order says there was new information provided after the EAB hearing. What was that information?
A – A week before the EAB Report and the Minister’s Orders were issued, the Alberta Environment and Parks Director released a package of data that had been assembled after the EAB hearing. This data was soil analyses from Parcel Y that had been collected prior to the hearing in 2018. Although the assembled data package was not presented by Alberta Environment and Parks in the hearing, the actual data was made available during the hearing and the findings were presented and reviewed. There was no “new” information that had not been considered by the EAB.
At the same time in March 2019, a week before the Minister’s Orders, Alberta Health released a public statement that three types of cancer had been found in the area of the former Domtar site at different rates compared to other parts of the Province. Alberta Health tried to disconnect their announcement from the former Domtar site by saying “the data on its own does not indicate why there are higher rates for these three types of cancer” and indicated there are many factors, other than proximity to the former Domtar site, that could contribute to an increased cancer risk including medical history, medication and smoking.
Q – What contaminants remain in the residential areas?
A – No groundwater contamination was found on the site.
Parcel C currently has no contaminants pending establishing a guideline value for dioxins.
Parcel Y has some limited areas where the dioxins in soil will require excavation and disposal and there are a few isolated spots where some creosote chemicals remain in the soil. Near the berm on the south side of the development area there is spot where in addition to some of the creosote chemicals there is petroleum in the soil.
Q – Can my kids get sick playing in their backyard?
A – Based on the Alberta Tier 2 guidelines for residential land use, there are no health hazards present in the soil in your backyards or in the community.
Q – Why did you develop over an area that is alleged to represent a health hazard?
A – The extensive and thorough scientific work shows there is no health hazard to your community.
At the time of the development in Parcel C, Alberta Environment and Parks had reviewed the available data for soil and groundwater and had issued a Remediation Certificate to use the land for residential purposes. Based on this Remediation Certificate, the City of Edmonton approved the required zoning and issued building certificates to the home builders. It was not until after the current houses had been constructed that Alberta Environment and Parks alleged there was a health hazard.
Q – What steps did you take to remove the contaminants?
A – Parcel C had limited contamination that had been removed by excavation and disposal prior to 2013 when the Remediation Certificate was issued by Alberta Environment and Parks. In the residential area on Parcel Y, soil that exceeded the Alberta Tier 2 guidelines was excavated and placed into the core of the berm on Parcel Y. The remedial excavation took place in 2013 and 2014.
Q – Why did you go the Environmental Appeals Board?
A – The remediation plan we proposed for the neighbouring lands and that was accepted by Alberta Environment and Parks included a significant amount of soil and groundwater testing prior to development. All this data was submitted to Alberta Environment and Parks for review and their comments were addressed from 2011 to 2014. After the approved plans were implemented and significant remediation work had been completed, Alberta Environment and Parks began to request additional sampling for the neighbouring lands that we believe was redundant to the testing we had already completed. The Alberta Environment and Parks Compliance Director also indicated that we did not have permission to build the berm and that the soil in the berm was likely a hazardous waste. Despite our efforts to clarify the issues, Alberta Environment and Parks refused to accept the work done from 2010 to 2014 and the technical staff would not meet to discuss the matter. Orders were issued in 2016 in relation to neighbouring lands and the appropriate recourse available to us was to go to the Environmental Appeals Board, an independent expert tribunal.
Q – What is going to happen to the value of my home?
A – That is a very good question and an understandable concern. It is difficult for us to evaluate how the Government’s recent actions may impact your property values; however, we are committed to working with you and your community to ensure it is ultimately safe and a good place to live.
Q – What would you do if contaminated soil is found in either the current Verte development or the remainder of the development land that you may have missed in remediation?
A – We have always stated that any contaminated soil that is encountered during development that was accidentally missed during remediation would be dealt with promptly by us. The Remediation Certificate Terms and Conditions also consider this possibility.
Q – Why should we believe you?
A – We would not compromise on our responsibility to create safe environments for communities. We have a long and positive track record with the rehabilitation of contaminated sites. We have built a reputation that is trusted and respected. Doing anything which even slightly compromises our services would have a devastating impact on our company which is built on integrity and commitment to the well-being of people and the environment.
Q – Why would the Government of Alberta go to this extent if they didn’t believe that there is a risk here?
A – We cannot speak to the Government’s motivations. What we can say is that we have been thorough in our commitment to remediate this site using best science, and we have met all of the environmental requirements.
Q – What reassurances can you give to nearby residents and future residents of this area?
A – We are fully confident that when remediation is complete the former Domtar property will pose no risk to the community. The current Verte development (Parcel C) was fully remediated and all the reports and testing were reviewed by Alberta Environment and Parks before a Remediation Certificate was issued in 2013. Before the future development proceeds on neighbouring lands, it will be cleaned up to meet the appropriate Alberta Environment and Parks guidelines for residential use. We stand on our record as a company invested in creating safe environments by cleaning up sites that would typically languish for years often in a state that does present risk.
Q – Did you build the berm without permission as Alberta Environment and Parks has said?
A – Cherokee had permission to build the berm in advance and Alberta Environment and Parks was aware of Cherokee’s activities throughout its construction. These facts were confirmed in the EAB hearing.
Q – Why not just remove the berm and replace it with clean soil?
A – Transporting the contaminated soil to a designated landfill would make redevelopment of the site cost prohibitive. In fact, this site sat empty for decades because transporting this amount of soil for offsite disposal is not feasible and would make the redevelopment of this area impractical.
The EAB Report has specifically said that they are in agreement with the approach that Cherokee had taken.
Q – Do you believe that the berm poses a risk?
A – We believe that the berm is safe. An independent consultant performed human and ecological risk assessments before the berm was constructed and determined that the berm would not harm human health or the environment. All the contaminated soil in the berm from the development area of Parcel Y is contained beneath a one metre thick layer of clean soil so there is no exposure. Our extensive studies have shown that groundwater in the berm area will not harm human health or the environment. Homes will NOT be built on top of the berm which is also required to insulate the nearby communities from train sound and to create a safety barrier.
Q – Are there liquid contaminants in the berm?
A – This allegation was raised by an unidentified call to Alberta Environment and Parks and was completely unfounded. There is no evidence to support this allegation.
Q – Why didn’t you just complete the sampling and delineation plan ordered for the berm and the area surrounding the berm?
A – The remediation work completed on Parcel Y included a significant amount of soil testing in addition to all the assessment work that had been completed before remediation began. All this data was submitted to Alberta Environment and Parks for review but no comments were provided to Cherokee. Before any further assessment work, Cherokee needed to understand why Alberta Environment and Parks needed this additional information. We believed much of the additional assessment sampling was redundant to the testing we had already completed.
Q – What does the latest testing done by Alberta Environment and Parks tell us?
A – Based on all the soil sampling and groundwater sampling data:
The groundwater at the site is within the Alberta Tier 2 guidelines. Tier 2 guidelines are used when there is no potable groundwater use and there is no lake or river within 300 metres. The guideline value for dioxins and furans is currently being calculated using a scientific process called site specific risk assessment and is being reviewed by Alberta Environment and Parks and Alberta’s Chief Scientist. The calculated value will be fully protective of human health.
Limited areas of contaminated soil still exist in Parcel Y development land. These areas are scheduled for remediation later this summer.
Contaminated soil remaining will be under clean soil cap in the Parcel Y berm and the clean soil cap in Parcel X
Parcel C where the houses are built does not contain any soil exceeding the Alberta Tier 2 guidelines.
Do you have further questions?
We know that much of the information we have provided is technical and while we have tried to make the updates as easy to understand as we can, you may still have some questions. If you would like to submit questions to us, don’t hesitate. We promise to get back to you.
We will add your questions and our responses to the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of this website.