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This article was published 21/8/2017 (822 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The newly-appointed Minister of Sustainable Development said department staff will "expedite" its assessment of soil samples taken from a south St. Boniface neighbourhood, which a University of Manitoba expert said contained elevated levels of lead, zinc and copper.
Rochelle Squires, who was appointed minister of Sustainable Development in a cabinet shuffle late last week, said her department only received a copy of the full report on the soil analysis Monday afternoon, adding any decision to alert the public over potential health concerns would be made after the data has been fully analyzed.
"Now that we have the full report, which just arrived in the department this afternoon, it is going to be expedited," Squires said in an interview Monday with the Free Press. "We’re working with the department of health and looking at the first steps to assess the level of risk based on evidence in the report and then we’ll be dialoguing with the community in terms of what ought to be done….based on the evidence and collaboration with the department of health."
Squires was responding to the Free Press report last week which quoted U of M professor Shirley Thompson advising south St. Boniface residents against eating vegetables grown in their gardens because of the results of soil samples that found elevated levels of lead, zinc and copper in three sites in a portion of that area, including a neighbourhood playground and a location adjacent to an auto parts recycling operation.
Squires said the health of south St. Boniface residents is "of the utmost concern" to the provincial government but she is not raising any public alarm at this time and is waiting for her department to review the data presented by Thompson before deciding what action, if any, should be taken.
Squires said that, while she was not criticizing Thompson for expressing her concerns as a result of the soil analysis, Squires said she found it "disconcerting" that Thompson and the residents went public with their concerns after they had agreed to wait for the department to review the data before making any public comments.
"It was somewhat disconcerting to see the level of alarm being raised publicly," Squires said. "We had agreed to wait to see the full results of the report before raising significant alarm bells, if necessary. That was not the direction the group chose to go after the meeting."
Thompson has been advising and helping the residents in the Dufresne and Archwood neighbourhoods of south St. Boniface — the residential areas north and south of the Marion/Archibald intersection and adjacent to the Mission Industrial Park — deal with their concerns with an auto recycling operation, Industrial Metals, that they believe is creating unnecessary noise and dust in the area.
The province and the firm have maintained that the operation does not pose a health a risk and that the emissions from the auto shredder comply with the terms of the environmental licence.
Thompson, an expert in industrial hygiene and eco-health, had been critical of air quality testing the province conducted a year ago in response to the residents’ concerns over Industrial Metals. She said the province failed to test for the presence of particulate matter so fine it’s transported in the air and could be breathed in by residents. She supports the residents’ call for a round of independent testing.
Thompson did not identify Industrial Metals as the source of the elevated toxic materials found in the soil samples but said the findings should prompt the department to conduct its own tests at Industrial Metals and other plants in the Mission Industrial Park to determine the source.
Squires said she has full confidence in the testing conducted by the department to date, adding however, that department staff, in collaboration with the provincial health department, will review the soil data and determine if Thompson’s concerns are justified.
"Everything is open and I’m not ruling anything out right now," Squires said. "We have committed to reviewing the data coming out of that sample. Now, I’ll be working with the health department to assess the level of risk based on the evidence in Dr. Thompson’s report.
"We will engage with the public, if necessary, in terms of mitigation aspects, but before alarming the public we would have appreciated an opportunity to look at the report and make a decision on what we would do on a go-forward basis based on the evidence."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Monday, August 21, 2017 at 6:35 PM CDT: Updates
6:46 PM: fixes related items