Province reverses direction, issues new timelines for Domtar clean-up

The province has backing away from forcing Domtar and other companies to immediately clean up the site of a former wood treatment facility in northeast Edmonton.

Domtar and developer argued original clean-up order was unnecessary and would cost $52 million

A sign posted near the former Domtar site in the Hermitage area on the north side of Yellowhead Trail. (Rob Riberdy )

The province has backed away from forcing Domtar and other companies to immediately clean up the site of a former wood-treatment facility in northeast Edmonton.

Instead, the province released a set of timelines for remediation of the site in Hermitage that is being developed into residential neighbourhoods.

"This decision provides more clarity and certainty for residents, adding specific timelines by which the responsible parties must take action on risk mitigation and remediation," Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said in a news release Thursday.

In 2016, the province told Domtar and Cherokee, the company developing the site, to immediately remove all contaminated material from the site.

In the appeal hearing late last summer, Cherokee and Domtar appealed, saying such a clean up was unnecessary and would cost $52 million.

In a decision dated Feb. 26, the appeal board sided with the companies. 

"Based on the evidence presented at the hearing of these appeals, the board has determined there is no immediate risk to these residents and other people."

The Alberta Environmental Appeal Board said, in fact, "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."

The timelines come one week after the province released a review that found cases of three types of cancers – breast, endometrial and lung – were higher than expected among people who had lived near the Domtar site for 10 years or more.

However, Phillips said she will require any response to the orders to consider the health testing and outcomes.

Phillips accepted the board's recommendations and issued her own order with detailed steps to proceed with site remediation and continue testing and remediation of two adjacent neighbourhoods.

Ministerial order timeline:

  • temporary dust control – within seven days
  • dust control – within 60 days
  • site delineation, including delineation of the berm – completed within 150 days
  • conceptual site model – within 180 days
  • human health risk assessments – within 210 days
  • site-specific risk assessments – within 210 days
  • long-term monitoring plans – developed and implemented within 240 days
  • reclamation and remediation plans – completed within 360 days

Environmental protection orders timeline:

  • site delineation – completed within 150 days
  • reclamation and remediation plans – completed within 280 days

The work done under the ministerial order will also be used to inform the work done under the environmental protection orders.

Phillips also asked Alberta's Chief Scientist, an independent officer of the legislature, to review all testing and remediation work.

A wood-treatment plant operated on the site from 1924 until 1987.

Sample tests done by the province in 2017 and 2018 found levels of dioxins, furans and other contaminants that exceed health guidelines.

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