Sudbury group still wants soil testing at Travers Park — but health unit disagrees

A Sudbury community group is calling for soil testing in city parks that may be contaminated by toxic mining run-off.

Residents in the west end of Greater Sudbury are worried about metal contamination at their local park

The soil at Travers Street playground in Sudbury's west end has been the subject of intense scrutiny in recent months. Some residents in the area are petitioning for soil testing for heavy metals. (Erik White/CBC )
The safety of Travers Park in Sudbury is a concern for area residents after allegations Vale has been leaking toxic run off there for decades. The Sudbury and District Health Unit is trying to ease people's concerns but residents want the soil tested. 6:26

The Sudbury and District Health Unit is trying to ease people's concerns about metal levels at a west end park.

Questions about metal contamination at Travers Park grew louder last fall, when news broke out about Environment Canada's investigation into Vale's smelting operations.

It's alleged the mining company has been leaking toxic run-off for decades — saturating Travers Park.

But the health unit's Burgess Hawkins told residents at a Community Action Network meeting Monday night that the risk of metal contamination at the site is not higher than in other areas.

"The levels you're looking at there would not be out of whack with the rest of Sudbury."

Hawkins said the health unit has not received any calls from residents about the issue.

But the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury has had an earful. 

Co-chair Lily Noble said they want a soil study to test for nickel and lead at the park.

"Metals do bind the soil. So it's possible that it could accumulate. It's also possible that it has washed through and it's not as high, but you won't know until you do the test," she said.

"This isn't just dirt. This is heavy metals, so why not alleviate everybody's concerns?"

No reason for soil test: ministry

So far, there aren't any plans for a soil study. But Noble said her coalition will work with residents to find a solution.

Noble pointed out that next to a playground in the area, there "is a nice little swampy area, which kids like to get into. Get their little rubber shoes on or maybe just their bare feet and walk around this area that's been flooded with the leachate and other rainwater as well."

"What are kids doing in this water? It gets in their mouths. They're getting exposure," she continued.

"We don't know what's in that water and what's in the sediment that's been leeching for we don't know how long and what's coming out of the slag heaps. Test the sediment there. Test the water there. And test that water that floods in into the grassy area around the playground where kids are playing."

Noble said the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has results from two water samples from Travers Park, taken in 2012 and 2013, that indicate lead levels were very low.

The ministry has told the coalition it won't do the soil test because there is no reason to believe there is an elevated risk of metal contamination.

Hawkins said groundwater testing at Vale's monitoring well near Travers Park does not show elevated nickel levels, either.

He noted nickel can cause dermal health issues or can cause a rash if a person is allergic to the metal, and that residents should take regular precautions to avoid nickel contamination, such as washing hands, cleaning household dust with a damp cloth, brush pets outside, shake rugs outside and avoid bringing dust into homes.


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