Environmental studies have been taking place at Pringle Creek over the past two decades to determine the extend and risks of chemical contamination to the Whitby, Ont., waterfront.
Leanne Lumb-Collet, environmental program manager for the federal Department of Oceans and Fisheries (DFO), said the source of contamination has been traced to a building adjacent from Pringle Creek, and started decades ago.
“So as the contamination entered into Pringle Creek, it trickled downstream into the harbour and settled there,” said Lumb-Collet.
The contamination was found after taking samples of sediment, water and fish tissue.
Now, the Town of Whitby and the DFO, have a plan to revitalize the waterfront, the water and its surrounding ecosystem.
According to the DFO, the contamination is present, but the risks to human life and the ecosystem are quite low. “The primary contaminants of concern are dioxins and furans,” explained Lumb-Collet.
She explained that this typically is produced when producing other chemicals, as well as certain industrial processes like fuel burning and waste production.
“However, the levels that are present could, over time, pose a risk to our health, so we’re doing what we can now,” said Lumb-Collet.
It’s also known that these toxins, when consumed by aquatic animals and organisms, can trickle down the food chain, in instances of fish eating the contaminated organisms, and people consuming that contaminated fish.
The method being used to clean up the sediments is called dredging. “Essentially a really big underwater vacuum cleaner goes into the water, and it will suck up the sediments at the bottom of the harbour,” said Lumb-Collet.
“Then it will be emptied into a confined area on land, the sediments drained out, and the dried-up materials will be shipped off and disposed off.
Mayor of the Town of Whitby, Elizabeth Roy, said there has been a history of industrial buildings near the waterfront, and the contamination has been under review over the last 10 years.
Mayor Roy said this is also one of the first steps in improving their waterfronts for the summer tourism seasons. The Whitby Marina is the fourth most profitable marina on Lake Ontario.
“This is one of our steps moving forward to ensure that our marina, which is situated down by the waterfront, and the yacht club, are ready for the summer,” said Roy. “In the summer the marina has 420 slips for boats, and they are always sold out.”
She adds that the Brock Bridge will also be undergoing a rebuild, so there’s about to be a ton of action happening down at the waterfront. But she says it will all be worth it.
“It’s so beneficial,” said Roy.
“The quality of water, the water as we know is for the fish in the water, and we want to ensure that anything falling into Lake Ontario gets cleaned up.”
As for enjoying the waterfront and harbour, residents are still encouraged to use it.
“Throughout the project there will be some level of disruption to boaters and other harbour users, but residents are still encouraged to come here when the process starts,” said Lumb-Collet.
Catch and release fishing is permitted, however there have been added consumption warning signs to protect residents in the meantime.
The remediation project isn’t set to start until 2024, but the planning process is already underway.
Residents are encouraged to attend an information session on the project, and are welcomed to ask questions and address any concerns. That will be taking place at the Avalon Lounge at the Port Whitby Marina, Thursday March 9th from 4-8 p.m.
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