January 21, 2020

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After latest review on lead in soil, province plans further study

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/3/2019 (308 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After receiving a new environmental assessment on lead in soil levels in the Weston and Point Douglas neighbourhoods in January, the provincial government plans to do another study of the problem — one that’s already been chronicled in reports dating back to the 1970s.

Neither Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires nor Health Minister Cameron Friesen were available for interviews on the new soil survey Monday. The report was tabled in the house last week.

According to a provincial spokesperson, the Manitoba government will be putting out a new request for proposals (RFP) in the weeks ahead "to get an independent analysis on how to address lead in soil concerns," she said by email.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont decried the province’s delay.

"They’re just kicking the can down the road again — to recommend another report where it’s talking about 40 years of reports and no action, or virtually no action," he said in an interview.

Liberal leader Dougald: 'They’re just kicking the can down the road again'

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Liberal leader Dougald: 'They’re just kicking the can down the road again'

Government reports about elevated lead levels in soil in the Weston area go back as early as 1976, and continued into 2011.

Results of the 2018 soil sample testing commissioned by the current government were originally published in November. However the recommendations for next steps weren’t ready then.

In November, Don Labossiere, the director of environmental compliance and enforcement for Manitoba’s Sustainable Development Department, told reporters he expected soil remediation efforts, air-quality monitoring and more testing in residential gardens would be among the topics up for discussion.

However in the final report, dated January 2019, the only recommendation is for further review.

"It is recommended that further analysis of lead levels found in this report be conducted to determine if there are risks to human health," the report concludes.

The report’s authors also allude to the limitations of their work, which they say is "not an exhaustive study of lead in soil in the Winnipeg area."

Lamont lamented that St. Boniface soil samples, which were found to have heavy-metal contamination last summer, weren’t inspected this time around.

He pointed out there is no money in Budget 2019 for soil remediation efforts in Weston or Point Douglas either, which a provincial spokesperson confirmed.

"They know this is a problem," Lamont said. "So what they need now is a plan to start doing something about it and not just another survey."

Sel Burrows, a community activist in Point Douglas, wondered why health officials haven’t been more forthcoming with information about lead.

Point Douglas activist Sel Burrows

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Point Douglas activist Sel Burrows

"At the heart of it is, where’s our medical officers of heath? WRHA (Winnipeg Regional Health Authority) and the province have medical officers of health. If these things are dangerous, then they have the power to issue orders," Burrows said.

"And one of the issues around so many things like lead… are the people who have the authority to act on these, aren’t really using their authority."

In November, the WRHA’s medical officer of health Lisa Richards reassured Weston-area families they shouldn’t be worried about the lead contamination during the winter.

At Weston School, where lead levels tested above acceptable levels, staff limited access to their sports field as a precaution.

In the summer, access to Weston School's sports field was limited as a result of high lead levels in soil tests.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

In the summer, access to Weston School's sports field was limited as a result of high lead levels in soil tests.

Dan Lemoal, a communications officer with the Winnipeg School Division, said Monday that in the winter months, students have been using the field. The province advised them that with the snow cover and frozen ground "the risk of exposure to lead in soil is negligible," he said by email.

"The field is currently still covered in snow, and any exposed soil underneath was covered in sod by our building department in the fall," Lemoal said. "That being said, we are taking direction from the province as temperatures warm up as to any further course of action."

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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