CN Gogama derailment clean up shifts to river bottom

Six months after a train carrying oil derailed and caused an explosion near the community of Gogama, the clean up effort has shifted to the river bed.

'It looks a bit like an explosion on the moon,' MPP says of amount of contaminated soil removed

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      The effort to remove every trace of oil from the site of a CN train derailment near Gogama is still underway six months after the wreck, but the focus has shifted to cleaning the bottom of a river.

      The derailment on March 7 caused numerous tank cars carrying crude oil to catch fire and spill into a local river system. 

      Nickel Belt MPP Frances Gelinas recently toured the derailment site on the Makami River.

      "They basically have all sorts of vacuuming instruments that go and vacuum the big stuff and then they have actual people with scuba diving gear going down there with their mini-vacuum cleaner and vacuuming the bottom of the river," she said.

      Gerry Talbot of Gogama shows off photographs he took in the summer and winter before a CN train carrying oil derailed at this bridge near the community. The bridge is now the site of a massive environmental clean up. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

      The Ontario Ministry of Environment said more than 60,000 tonnes of contaminated soil have been removed this summer.

      "It looks a bit like an explosion on the moon, there is not a blade of grass left standing," Gelinas said. "Everything has been taken down to either rock or water."

      The ministry also said about five million litres of oily water has been treated on site or shipped away for disposal.

      "The good news is that water sampling is showing that our water quality limits are being met and the majority of the impacts were able to be recovered," said spokesperson Kate Jordan.

      CN Rail did not respond to requests for information on the clean up from CBC News. On a website dedicated to the Gogama remediation, the company does not provide a timeline for the end of the work.

      First derailment

      CN is also still working on cleaning up a derailment that happened February 14 near Gogama. That site is in the remote bush north of the community.

      At the time, it was estimated that more than one million litres of oil was released in that crash.

      The Ministry of Environment said 45,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil is being removed from that site and new vegetation is being planted.

      CN did not respond to requests for information regarding that clean up effort.

      Concerns remain

      The rail company has been keeping the community of Gogama well-informed about the clean up effort at the derailment nearby, said Gerry Talbot, the chair of the local services board.

      The community of Gogama relies heavily on outdoor tourism and some are concerned fears about the contamination from the derailment is driving tourists away. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

      But concerns remain about the long-term impact of the derailment on the environment in Gogama, he said.

      "The fish sampling has to continue, and we have asked that it continue at least for another year."

      The economy of Gogama is tightly tied to fishing and other outdoor tourism.

      Jim Loiselle, the owner of J&L Lakeview Retreat in Gogama, said his lodge has been full since the derailment with crews working at the site.

      But he said some people did not attend an annual fishing derby this summer, and there is some concern that the derailment has caused worry about whether fish were contaminated by the spill.

      "It hasn't affected the water here, and the fishing was good this year. Actually, it was better this year than it was last year," Loiselle said.

      Jim Loiselle, the owner of J&L Lakeview Retreat in Gogama, said his lodge has been full since the derailment with crews working at the site, but some worried numbers were down for tourists at a recent fishing derby. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

      CN and the Ministry of Environment have been testing fish and results indicate that "concentrations of oil components in the fish in Minisinakwa Lake do not pose an unacceptable risk to human or wildlife health," CN said in an information bulletin to the community at the end of August.

      But Gelinas said she wants to see government officials clearly indicate that the fish are safe to eat.

      "They should have people who can look at this report on fish toxicity that was done and be able to say 'the government is telling you that it is safe to eat the fish," she said.


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