Meeting set to update residents on Cambridge TCE contamination

The Ministry of the Environment and Region of Waterloo will hold a meeting on May 31 in Cambridge to update residents on a long-standing trichloroethylene contamination in the Bishop Street community in Preston.

Meeting set for May 31 to discuss Northstar Aerospace contamination in Bishop Street area

Tracy Hipel of Cambridge is seen in his backyard earlier this year. The shed behind him houses a soil vapour extraction unit. He has to ensure clear access to the shed at all times as an employee visits the shed twice a week. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

A meeting to update residents living in Cambridge about a portion of Preston contaminated by trichloroethylene will be held May 31.

The meeting will be held at Fairview Mennonite Home Auditorium at two times that day – from 2 to 4 p.m., then again from 6 to 8 p.m.

About 13 years ago, groundwater testing determined the Bishop Street area of Preston was contaminated with trichloroethylene, or TCE.

TCE is a solvent used to clean or degrease metal parts. It has been classified a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is regulated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Cleanup efforts ongoing

The contamination is from Northstar Aerospace, which had a helicopter parts manufacturing facility at 695 Bishop Street North in Cambridge.

"It is unknown how often TCE waste was discharged onto the ground and in what quantities," a May 2011 provincial report to the Region of Waterloo said.

Groundwater testing in the area in November 2004 revealed the contamination had migrated offsite and by July 2005 the Ministry of the Environment had been told levels of TCE in the Bishop Street community exceeded allowable limits.

A total of 350 homes and four businesses were affected and, according to a 2006 report.
The former Northstar Aerospace helicopter parts manufacturing facility at 695 Bishop Street North, as seen in this 2011 Google StreetView image. (Google StreetView)

Remediation and monitoring of the area is ongoing, Amy Shaw, the district manager for the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOE) based in Guelph, has told CBC News.

Some of the properties were hooked up to sheds that are housed in the backyards of residents. The sheds contain a soil vapour extraction unit that pulls toxins from dry wells dug in neighbours' yards.

The MOE perform annual indoor air monitoring in more than 400 homes to ensure levels of TCE are below acceptable levels, with the most recent testing being completed in February.

Annual samples are taken from the groundwater, the surface water and from the former Northstar property, where a groundwater extraction system is in place to treat water to acceptable levels before discharging it into the municipal storm sewer.

"It has been 10 years and groundwater contamination still exists in the Bishop Street community and all we can commit to is that we're going to continue to monitor and mitigate for as long as necessary," Shaw said. "We do not have an estimate on how long that will be." 

Linda Watson and Axel Meerman pull up their pant legs to reveal similar rashes on their legs. They said their doctors are unsure what is causing it. Watson and Meerman both live in the Bishop Street community in Cambridge and say they're concerned a TCE contamination could be affecting their health. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'Can't seem to get help'

Residents have become increasingly frustrated in recent months with what they say is a lack of information about clean-up efforts and they want the sheds with the soil vapour extraction units out of their backyards.

Tracy Hipel has also lead a group of residents who ask the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation to reduce their property assessments every four years.

"A lot of the neighbours are to the point now where we want these gone," Hipel said of the sheds, adding he and his neighbours want people to know this problem continues to exist.

"I've reached out to everybody that I should ask for help, and I've sort of had a turned blind eye to every question I've asked and just can't seem to get help from anybody."