Manitoba

Air monitoring, more garden tests needed as lead levels stay high in parts of Winnipeg, officials say

Air monitoring and more tests of soil from home gardens and in other areas of Winnipeg are needed, government officials say after the release of tests results that show lead contamination persists in parts of the city.

'It is difficult based on the sampling we did what the actual industrial contribution may be'

Shirley Thompson, an associate professor in the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Manitoba, and graduate student Folarin Solademi take samples from a resident's backyard for tests commissioned by the CBC. Provincial government officials say more tests are needed. (Kristin Annable/CBC)

Air monitoring and more tests of soil from home gardens and in other areas of Winnipeg are needed, government officials say after the release of tests results that show lead contamination persists in parts of the city.

The results of 116 tests done in fall were publicly released at a technical briefing Thursday with Don Labossiere, Manitoba's director of environmental compliance and enforcement, and Lisa Richards, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's medical officer of health.

"While the lead persists in those areas … the numbers are dropping, in some cases, fairly significantly," Labossiere said. 

The test results indicate Weston School's sports field and parts of North Point Douglas remain contaminated with lead levels above national safety guidelines.

More than 110 samples were taken from across the city by the provincial government, mimicking tests done in 2007 and 2008. Those tests found high concentrations at the elementary school and in parts of North Point Douglas, as well as at several other parks and schools. 

Of the 21 samples taken at the elementary school, 17 came back above national safety limits, with an average concentration of 219 milligrams per kilogram in each sample.

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment has set 140 mg/kg as the level deemed acceptable for human health.

Full report next month

Labossiere said a full report on the results will be written by Christmas.

The report will include recommendations on mitigation and management as well as other areas to study, such as Transcona, he said. 

Those recommendations will include further air monitoring in industrial areas such as Point Douglas, more samples taken from home gardens and other areas to determine the source of the lead, and further possible remediation options for Weston School.

If there is an industrial contributor to the lead, then the polluter should be paying for it, Labossiere said.

It is difficult to tell where the lead is coming from, he said, citing historic industrial uses in the area, lead paint and lead gas as possible causes.

"It is difficult to tell. We have some baseline information now, but it is difficult based on the sampling we did what the actual industrial contribution may be."

Risk 'negligible' in winter

Labossiere said more sampling and testing is necessary, especially in industrial areas. 

Richards said the good news is that the winter weather means the risk of exposure is "negligible."

"People may have questions about gardening in the soil ... but you can reduce your risk of exposure to lead in soil by taking precaution when you grow vegetables, such as washing them and planting them in a raised garden," Richards said. 

"In terms of children, there are precautions they can take. They can wash their hands after playing in playgrounds or parks."

Labossiere and City of Winnipeg staff will meet to go over the results, including looking at the zoning of industrial sites.

"If there are industrial contributors, are there specific zoning or planning concepts that may be needing some discussion?" he said.

Richards said they will spend the winter looking at their options and for the best next steps.

They are waiting for approval to purchase a driveable, mobile air monitoring system, which will cost about $500,000, Labossiere said.

'No idea'

At least two draft reports detailing the results of the tests in 2007 and 2008 were written in 2009 and 2011, as well as a draft news release and technical report.

For reasons that remain unclear, the NDP government never publicly released the reports.

When asked about why the reports were shelved, Labossiere said he doesn't know, because he was in Dauphin at the time.

"I have no idea," he said.

"I've actually tracked down some people who worked on that project and they couldn't say. At the field level or at my level, you push to get a report released, and I don't know what happened that it didn't get released, because I do know at least two of the people I was talking to were actively pushing for it to be released."

Lead levels stay high in parts of Winnipeg

4 years ago
Duration 2:21
Air monitoring and more tests of soil from home gardens and in other areas of Winnipeg are needed, government officials say after the release of tests results that show lead contamination persists in parts of the city.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristin Annable is a member of CBC's investigative unit based in Winnipeg. She can be reached at kristin.annable@cbc.ca

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