Although it’s the bountiful time of year when backyard gardens offer a harvest of healthy vegetables, some residents of south St. Boniface are frightened to eat produce they planted with their own hands. And who can blame them?

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This article was published 24/8/2017 (1440 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

Although it’s the bountiful time of year when backyard gardens offer a harvest of healthy vegetables, some residents of south St. Boniface are frightened to eat produce they planted with their own hands. And who can blame them?

Several homeowners told a visiting Free Press reporter they are alarmed that University of Manitoba associate professor Shirley Thompson tested the soil and announced last week it shows unsafely high levels of lead, copper and zinc. She said tests at three sites showed the health of residents is at risk and she advised that they don’t eat from their gardens.

Not surprisingly, residents want more testing of the soil and air that they fear may be dangerously poisoned by nearby industrial operations, particularly a vehicle-shredding plant that uses a massive device to pound cars and trucks into recyclable parts, filling the air around nearby homes with noise, stench and clouds of dust.

Provincial officials had tested air quality in the area a year ago in response to residents’ concerns and found the air was acceptable. But the professor, who specializes in industrial hygiene and eco-health, said the province failed to test for the presence of particulate matter so fine that it hangs in the air and is breathed in by people.

The newly appointed minister of sustainable development, Rochelle Squires, moved with commendable speed to recognize the seriousness of the results of the professor’s soil tests. She said Monday the department’s staff will "expedite" its own assessment of the soil samples.

If the province confirms the professor’s finding that the soil is tainted with chemicals — including lead, for which no amount of exposure is considered safe — the implications will be considerable. Questions will include:

What is the geographical extent of the toxic soil? The samples were taken in several residential and industrial pockets near the Mission Industrial Park, in the Dufresne and Archwood neighbourhoods of St. Boniface. But if the fine particulate matter is transported by air, as the professor says, how far has it been blown? Perhaps tests of the soil of adjacent areas are also warranted.

Where do the chemical contaminants originate? Residents suspect the recycling plant Industrial Metals, which moved into the area in 2015, but it’s an unfair allegation to levy against a business without solid proof. The co-owner says his operation complies with the guidelines of its provincial environmental licence and is routinely inspected and tested. Perhaps other industries in the area, both current and historical, have contributed to the soil pollution.

Are the provincial industrial-emission guidelines adequate? The professor’s tests in front of Industrial Metals on Messier Street showed elevated levels of several potentially toxic elements, including cadmium, arsenic and chromium.

Should city planners be tasked with resolving the dilemma created decades ago by allowing residential development adjacent to an industrial park filled with high-hazardous industries, a situation that has also caused concerns in neighbourhood areas other than St. Boniface? People generally welcome businesses for the jobs they provide and their economic impact on the city, but no one wants a hazardous industrial operation as a neighbour.

Many significant issues hinge on the province’s upcoming followup of the professor’s soil testing. If it’s confirmed the soil has been contaminated to a degree that is harmful to people, the implications extend far beyond the gardens of south St. Boniface.