Friday, July 10, 2020


Fish in the Canagagigue Creek in Elmira, Ontario and downstream have the following compounds in their tissues at concentrations exceeding the Ontario Tissue Residue Guidelines (TRG) namely PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), Mercury, DDT, Dioxins/Furans, and more. These concentrations were minimized by the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MECP) using creative sampling techniques such as not sampling the livers of the fish as well as sampling lean tissues versus fatty tissues.

An environmental colleague and friend from out of town has sent me a history of major contamination events in Michigan, USA. There are both similarities and differences in the perpetrators as well as in the toxic compounds so readily released into the natural environment.

Shortly after the Second World war the U.S. government estimated that 5.9 million gallons of oil and other petroleum products were released into the Detroit and Rouge Rivers each year. There was a massive mortality of ducks and geese (11,000) that were killed by the oil etc. on the surfasce of the water. Downstream duck hunters collected the carcasses from the river and took them to the state capitol of Lansing, Michigan and dumped them on the State Capitol sidewalk in protest. This event started the industrial pollution control event in Michigan. Here in Elmira, Jeff Merriman of Chemtura once piously advised myself and CPAC members that the Chemtura site did not have petroleum hydrocarbons (PHC) in the sub-surface. Apparently he had forgotten the 10,000-15,000 gallons of PHC floating on the water table that had leaked out of Uniroyal's/Chemtura Building #15.

Michigan was the first state to ban DDT in 1969, three years before it was banned nationally in 1972. Throughout the 1950s and 60s there were massive die-offs of robins in various Michigan towns and cities due to DDT spraying. Grassroots activism ended the spraying practices and pushed for the ban.

In 1969 both the Rouge River and the Cuyahoga Rivers caught fire. The latter got most of the bad press and of course the cause was petroleum hydrocarbons (gas & oil) floating on the rivers from nearby industries.

Mercury, courtesy of Dow Chemical, was found in the sediments of the St. Clair River resulting in the closing of the fishery from southern Lake Huron to Lake Erie. This was the Mercury Crisis of 1970. Unlike in Elmira, Ontario, Dow Chemical spent $75 million back then to control leaking sources of mercury in sewers, drains and landfills plus another $18 million to remediate sediments in the river between 2001 and 2005. Here in Elmira we get peanut cleanups along with Risk Assessments and other paperwork games produced by Uniroyal/ Chemtura/ Lanxess Canada. That however still exceeds the token amounts of cleanup in northern Ontario caused by mercury discharge (Reid Paper) into the English/Wabigoon River systems.

Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB) are kissing cousins of PCBs and also highly toxic. In the early 1970s Velsicol Chemical in Michigan inadvertently shipped PBBs to a livestock feed plant contaminating cattle, chickens, pigs, and humans. Furthermore the Pine River was contaminated from a nearby leaking landfill containing PBB wastes.

Again Dow Chemical managed to contaminate the Tittabawassee River in Michigan with dioxins. This river as well as the Saginaw River have had fish consumption advisory warnings for decades and Dow has been involved in the site cleanup. A recent major flood may have distributed these contaminants further downstream and into previously clean floodplains. Here in Elmira we are starting the Risk Assessment process in order to minimize the cleanup of both the sediments and the floodplain soils of the Canagagigue Creek. Meanwhile the landbased source areas remain unremediated and they too will continue to erode during flood events and carry the dioxins and more downstream into the Grand River.

Hooker Chemical were the source of contaminated chlorophenols to Uniroyal Chemical in Elmira, Ontario back in the 1950s and 60s. Hooker Chemical in Montague, Michigan produced hexachlorcyclopentadiene (C-56) and many other chlorinated hydrocarbons for use in pesticides all of which contaminated ground and surface waters in and around White lake, Michigan. Hooker started cleanup in 1981-82. Many of Hooker's chemicals are similar or identical to those improperly disposed of by Uniroyal Chemical in Elmira.

Dow Chemical again was responsible for the "blob" in the St. Clair River. This was a DNAPL chemical, namely perchloroethylene (PCE) which was discharged and sank to the bottom of the river where it would slowly dissolve over decades. Dow eventually recovered most of the nearly 3,000 gallons of PCE which it had spilled into the river. Elmira, Ontario has very little PCE but lots of other chlorinated solvents in their soils, ground water and surface waters such as chlorobenzene, chlorophenols etc.

What have our authorities learned from all of this? Apparently very little as they continue to delay unconscionably for decades and continue to "study" to death that which should have been cleaned up decades ago. "Study" however continues to be less expensive than cleanup and our politicians continue to back major polluters while publicly mouthing platitudes about a clean environment.

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