St. Catharines Citizens Call Out Ontario Environment Ministry’s Lack of Action on Toxic PCB Concerns

“Contaminants (including PCBs) entering Twelve Mile Creek , a tributary of Lake Ontario, is significant in terms of international efforts to protect Great Lakes habitats. (Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks testing shows) that a number of other contaminants like Poly Hydrocarbons (PHCs) and metals hazardous to human health and the environment were also leaking off the site.”

A News Release from the Coalition for a Better St. Catharines, a grassroots, citizen group  in Niagara, Ontario

Posted October 10th, 2020 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – Today (this October 9th), the Coalition for a Better St. Catharines, a citizens’ advocacy group, challenged the conclusions of the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks (MECP) regarding contaminants leaking off the former GM Property in St. Catharines.

Once a major industrial force and source of good-paying jobs in St. Catharines, Niagara, what is left of the General Motors plant off Ontario Street in that city, has become an unwelcome eyesore for neighbours and may be a source to the Twelve Mile Creek and Lake Ontario of PCBS and other industrial poisons. Where it the government will to address it?

In a letter to Gary Wheeler, Ministry Spokesperson, the Coalition pointed out that PCBs were indeed leaking into Twelve Mile Creek from the former GM Property at levels at least 90% over the guidelines set by the Ontario government to prevent adverse effects to the environment and human health.

“MECP seems to downplay the situation at the former GM Property’, said Coalition spokesperson Dennis Van Meer,‘ despite clear evidence, to date they have not displayed any willingness to protect the environment or the community”

In July, MECP released results from their February, 2020 surface water testing at the site. Contrary to MECP claims this was not a” wet event” when higher levels of PCBs might be expected. .

A stretch of the Twelve Mile Creek, its waters flowing to the scenic Martindale Pond and Port Dalhousie, to Lake Ontario, a source of drinking water for millions of Canadians and Americans along its shores.

At the time of testing the ground was frozen. Water running off the site at this time would not have contained peak levels of contaminants like PCB as it would remain frozen in the soil. As the Coalition’s response points out, under these conditions the levels of PCBs should have been even lower than the provincial benchmark of 10 ng/l.

However, MECP reported PCBs leaving the site at 19 ng/l – an alarming result..

Context is extremely important when interpreting testing results and is plainly absent from the MECP report. Evidence of contaminants entering Twelve Mile Creek was corroborated in a memo from ELM an independent environmental consulting firm hired by the Coalition to provide an informed opinion of the situation.

Contaminants entering Twelve Mile Creek , a tributary of Lake Ontario is significant in terms of international efforts to protect Great Lakes habitats. MECP testing also showed that a number of other contaminants like Poly Hydrocarbons (PHCs) and metals hazardous to human health and the environment were also leaking off the site.

For example, Cadmium, a suspected carcinogen, was found leaking into Twelve Mile Creek by MECP at levels 400% higher than provincial water quality guidelines. Until the Coalition brought conditions on the former GM Property to public attention, MECP had not monitored the site on a regular basis.

St. Catharines NDP MPP Jennie Stevens has added her voice to citizens and others calling on governments to address the mess that is the abandoned General Motors site off Ontario Street

Now with the community voicing serious concerns and additional pressure from St.Catharines’ MPP Jennie Stevens, MECP has indicated they will do additional surface water testing on the site. As results from the last round of testing were not released until five months later, the timing on the release of the results of these tests is unknown.

The issue of contaminants leaking off the site affects not only Twelve Mile Creek. These same contaminants may also be leaking into the adjoining residential communities.

The CBSC is calling on the City of St. Catharines to use its authority under its newly enacted bylaw and enter the GM site to take sampling independent of the MECP and assure Citizens that they are safe.

“If Council is serious about a cleanup and about concern for human and environmental health,’ continues Van Meer, ‘it will use all the tools at its disposal to create a sense of urgency that is lacking at the provincial level.“

To read letter from coalition to MOE, click on – file:///C:/Users/owner/Desktop/CBSC%20Response%20to%20MECP%20Oct%209.pdf

This slide from the United States Environmental Protection Agency sums up some of the threats PCBs pose to the environment and all life, including humans, on this planet.

A Brief Footnote by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –

As far back as two or three decades ago, while I was still working as a full-time environment reporter at The St. Catharines Standard, I received calls from former General Motors workers at the now-abandoned plant off Ontario Street and near the shores of the Twelve Mile Creek in St. Catharines that the company had allegedly dumped or discharged PCB-contaminated site in the direction of the creek from that site.

PCBs have been among the chemicals that have cursed wildlife and humans in the Great Lakes, including tributaries to the lakes, like the Niagara River and Twelve Mile Creek for more than half a century now.

By the time I received these reports, The Standard was sold to a Toronto-based corporation and the environment beat at the newspaper was eliminated, so I could not pursue these leads from former workers.

Earlier in my years as an environment reporter at The Standard, I obtained test results from provincial and federal environment agencies, showing significantly high levels of toxic PCBs in the flesh of fish and turtles further downstream in Twelve Mile Creek, in and around the creek’s outlet to Lake Ontario, in Martindale Pond and Port Dalhousie Harbour.

The burning question at the time was this – ‘Where were these PCBs coming from?’

Perhaps now, we are getting closer to an answer.

Niagara At Large will continue to follow this story and will post more later.

This classic, still visible sticker from the U.S. Environmental Agency should tell us all we need to know about this now banned chemical compound. Keep it out of our environment!

Stay Tuned! Doug Draper

To read another story that Niagara At Large posted this February 2020 on the abandoned General Motors property off Ontario Street in St. Catharines/Niagara, click on –

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“A Politician Thinks Of The Next Election. A Leader Thinks Of The Next Generation.” – Bernie Sanders


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