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This article was published 17/8/2017 (887 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A University of Manitoba professor is advising residents in a portion of a south St. Boniface neighbourhood not to eat the vegetables grown in their gardens after soil samples revealed high levels of lead, copper and zinc in at least three locations in the area.
Shirley Thompson, an associate professor in the natural resources Institute at the U of M and an expert in industrial hygiene and eco-health, said the results from even the few number of sites tested revealed that the health and safety of residents in the area is at risk.
"The residents asked me if they should be eating from their gardens and I don’t think they should," Thompson said. "There needs to be more rigorous testing. If we’re finding high levels from these few number of sites… there needs to be a larger investigation."
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 for the area.
Thompson 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.
Provincial officials are not responding to Thompson’s concerns. A spokesman for the Department of Sustainable Development said government officials have not seen Thompson’s full report and will not comment until they review it. The spokesman said staff indicated results from the air quality testing conducted in 2016 did not indicate any potential risk to human health in the area.
Lead is linked to developmental and neurological problems in humans and no amount of exposure is considered safe.
Thompson said she presented a summary of the findings to provincial officials on Tuesday, when she and the residents met with Bruce Gray, the deputy minister of sustainable development. She said officials didn’t seem alarmed or interested in remediating the sites identified in the soil sampling.
Thompson said she didn’t have the exact locations of the seven sites sampled when she met with the province, but she’ll be meeting with the residents’ group next week to go over the findings and discuss the implications and their next steps.
Michelle Berger, an area resident and member of the South St. Boniface Residents Association, said the results are shocking.
"Wow... How do you respond to that," said Berger, who was one of the residents who met with Gray on Tuesday. "That’s a serious concern. If the government continues to have any doubts, they should do more testing now."
Thompson said the soil testing found extremely high levels of lead on Plinguet Street, in the heart of the Mission Industrial area, but also elevated levels of lead at Happyland Park — at the corner of Marion and Archibald streets — and further to the east at a site on Dawson Road.
Thompson said the sample taken from the ditch in front of the Industrial Metals plant on Messier Street found elevated levels of lead and several other toxic elements, including zinc, copper, cadmium, arsenic and chromium.
The lead levels at the Plinguet Street site, Thompson said, was 2100 mg/kg — which is more than three times the recommended maximum level of 600 mg/kg for industrial locations.
At Happyland Park, the lead levels were 94.3 mg/kg, which she said was below the recommended guidelines for residential/parkland (140mg/kg) but exceed the agriculture guideline levels of 70 mg/kg.
Thompson said the Happyland Park site and the others that had elevated levels of lead need to be remediated as they pose an ongoing threat to the people who go to the park and the workers in the industrial park.
"Children play in soil and sometimes some of them eat it. Workers track it home and elsewhere," Thompson said. "Those sites need to be remediated to ensure they aren’t sources of contamination as well."
Thompson said it’s not clear Industrial Metals is the source of the elevated metals, but the results should prompt the province to carry out its own testing at the plant to ensure the operation is not breaching the emission standards of its environmental licence.
Thompson said it would be a good idea for the province to do soil and emission tests at other highly hazardous operations in the area, adding that would be the only way to identify the sources emitting the high levels.
"The government has to listen because (the test results) surpass values that everyone agrees are not appropriate, are hazardous," Thompson said. "This is a health and environmental hazard that has to be cleaned up."
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 Friday, August 18, 2017 at 11:19 AM CDT: Typos fixed.