The federal government has agreed to probe the spread of a chemical contaminant on the Hamilton airport lands to off-site locations — while a plan on how to clean up the property remains on hold. 

Geoff Knapper, the Hamilton district manager for the province’s Ministry of the Environment, revealed the news of the federal plans at a meeting of the city’s airport implement task force.

 The federal probe, he said, will examine the amount of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) in the soil and from the edge of the airport property into the Welland River. 

He said Transport Canada is putting out a request for proposals and plans for the work to commence by the end of the summer.

Starting in the 1980s, the federal government used land at the Hamilton airport site as a training facility for firefighters. Part of the former Crown land is contaminated with PFOS, which has been found to cause birth defects and slow physical development in some animals.

In the past decade, the federal government has identified PFOS as a dangerous pollutant that needs to be removed from Crown lands. 

Amounts of the chemical have been found downstream and in Lake Niapenco, which is located south of the airport, in the Binbrook Conservation Area 

Knapper said he didn’t know the the value of the contract or when it be awarded. 

Airport cleanup plan not yet finalized

Friday’s meeting also revealed that the MOE has yet to approve a draft of plan to clean up the airport lands. Tradeport International Corporation, which operates the airport, and the city tapped a private consulting firm to develop the plan. It was submitted to the MOE in November 2012.

The proposal, which remains under wraps, reportedly suggests options for how to dispose of contaminated soil. One would include having crews dig up the dirt and house it in an enclosed landfill on the airport property. Another would see the soil solidified in concrete or a similar substance.

On Friday, Knapper said the agency has “reviewed the report” and has given Tradeport feedback on the study.

He said the MOE has “questions” about the some of the conclusions, but noted the additional research will involve “significant costs.”

'We’ve been three years — and really, the MOE has known for four years — and we’ve got nothing done.'—Don McLean, Environment Hamilton

Tradeport said it’s waiting for the federal government to come up with money to finish off the assessment, and said it’s also waiting on the results of Transport Canada’s study to move forward.

“Ultimately, that risk-assessment process will establish the standards for cleanup levels that have to happen,” said Frank Scremin, Tradeport’s president and CEO. “We believe that should happen in coordination with the efforts that are going on off-site.”

Don McLean, an activist and a founding member of advocacy group Environment Hamilton, slammed the slow rate of progress on the file. 

“We’ve been three years — and really, the MOE has known for four years — and we’ve got nothing done,” he said. 

Provincial regulators, Knapper acknowledged, could demand Tradeport finish the risk assessment on its own.

“We’re not happy to wait, but we’re willing to wait,” he said.

When asked how much longer the ministry can stand by, he responded: “I can’t answer that.”