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Canadian effort pinpoints 142 polluted sites across country

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The Canadian government has identified 142 contaminated sites where pollutants need to be contained or eliminated because of a long-term or immediate threat to human health or the environment.

That's according to a CBC News analysis of information compiled by the Treasury Board, one of the departments responsible for maintaining an inventory of sites. Much of the data is available online, but CBC News obtained additional information.

The 142 sites are only those that have reached step eight in a long process that federal departments and agencies must follow to assess and develop plans to clean up or contain damage posed by contaminants.

Step eight is what's called "remediation/risk management strategy," which includes identifying the contaminants in soil or groundwater, and developing a plan to remove or treat them. There needs to be a detailed contingency plan in case the contaminants are released into the environment.

Contaminated sites dot the Canadian landscape, ranging from decommissioned Distant Early Warning sites that form the so-called DEW line in Canada's far north, to native reserves, to sites closer to major cities, such as Montreal's Lachine Canal and Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier Airport.

Some work is underway at all 142 sites. The government announced more than $14 million last month to clean up 21 DEW line sites last used in 1993.

The 142 sites are but a handful of the thousands of potential sites requiring clean up that have been identified since the department began tracking them in the 1990s. In the 2004 budget, the government set aside $3.5 billion to assess and develop plans to ensure these sites cease pose no risk to human health and the environment. So far, the government has spent about $1 billion.

In 2005, the government developed what it called the Federal Contaminated Action Plan to ensure that the departments responsible for most of the contaminated sites develop regular plans and report on their progress.

Abandoned mines

Abandoned mines in the North such as the Giant Mine just outside Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories pose some of the biggest problems.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has noted that while the four departments had made progress, there was still a lot of work to do.

The Canadian government identified 142 contaminated sites as of last September where pollutants need to be contained or eliminated because of a long-term or immediate threat to human health or the environment.

That's according to a CBC News analysis compiled by the Treasury Board, one of the departments responsible for maintaining an inventory of sites. Much of the data is available online, but CBC News obtained more complete data.

The 142 sites are only those that have reached step eight in a long process that federal departments and agencies must follow to assess and develop plans to clean up or contain damage posed by contaminants.

Step eight is what's called "remediation/risk management strategy," which includes identifying the contaminants in soil or groundwater, and developing a plan to remove or treat them. There needs to be a detailed contingency plan in case the contaminants are released into the environment.

Contaminated sites dot the Canadian landscape, ranging from decommissioned Distant Early Warning sites that form the so-called DEW line in Canada's far north, to native reserves, to sites closer to major cities, such as Montreal's Lachine Canal and Ottawa's Macdonald-Cartier Airport.

Some work is under way at all 142 sites. The government announced more than $14 million last month to clean up 21 DEW line sites last used in 1993.

The 142 sites are but a handful of the thousands of potential sites requiring clean up that have been identified since the department began tracking them in the 1990s. In the 2004 budget, the government set aside $3.5 billion to assess and develop plans to ensure these sites cease pose no risk to human health and the environment. So far, the government has spent about $1 billion.

In 2005, the government developed what it called the Federal Contaminated Action Plan to ensure that the departments responsible for most of the contaminated sites develop regular plans and report on their progress.

Abandoned mines

Abandoned mines in the North such as the Giant Mine just outside Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories pose some of the biggest problems.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has noted that while the four departments had made progress, there was still a lot of work to do.

Many of the contaminants come from petroleum stored in underground storage tanks. In the 2008 report, the commissioner gave Environment Canada an "unsatisfactory" mark for failing to force the four departments to deal with petroleum storage tanks considered to be "high-risk."

Environment Canada, the audit concluded, "has done limited inspections of petroleum storage tanks on federal facilities to ensure that departments were registering them. The risk posed by these storage tanks is serious.”

Limited pollution can cause major problems.  For example, one gallon of gasoline can render 1 million gallons of water unfit for human consumption.

The environment commissioner will also report Tuesday on the government's progress in meeting its 2020 emissions-reduction targets, and will make his third and final report on Canada's the Kyoto Protocol. The Conservative withdrew from the Kyoto agreement in late 2011.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations. Contact David McKie at david_mckie@cbc.ca.

an "unsatisfactory" mark for failing to force the four departments to deal with petroleum storage tanks considered to be "high-risk."

Environment Canada, the audit concluded, "has done limited inspections of petroleum storage tanks on federal facilities to ensure that departments were registering them. The risk posed by these storage tanks is serious.”

Limited pollution can cause major problems.  For example, one gallon of gasoline can render 1 million gallons of water unfit for human consumption.

The environment commissioner will also report Tuesday on the government's progress in meeting its 2020 emissions-reduction targets, and will make his third and final report on Canada's the Kyoto Protocol. The Conservative withdrew from the Kyoto agreement in late 2011.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.