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Water Today Title August 4, 2020

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Advisory of the Day



This story is brought to you in part by Borrum Energy Solutions

By Ronan O'Doherty

An airport in the town of La Ronge has been under a Do Not Consume advisory since February 13th due to higher than acceptable levels of the chemicals PFOA and PFOS.

Transport Canada, who used to own the airport, contacted the municipality, who are now responsible for running it, to ask if they could perform some tests.

"They are looking across the country and they see that they used a chemical in their fire retardant process that has been judged as a contaminant in Canada," said Stephen Conway, Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of La Ronge, "Because of that, Transport Canada asked if they could drill holes where they used this fire suppressant on test sites."

Tests were performed at the well on-site and the results showed a noticeable contamination with PFAS, despite the chemicals not being used there since 2002 at the latest.

The Environmental Protection Agency lists the chemicals as, "Fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. They have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g., cookware) that are resistant to water, grease or stains. They are also used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes."

Although the effects of PFAS on humans haven't been extensively studied, tests on animals have found that those exposed to PFAS at high levels saw changes in the function of the liver, thyroid, pancreas and hormone levels.

The contaminated well in question was servicing the garage in addition to the airport terminal, so on the advice of the Mamawetan Churchill River Regional Health Authority, a Do Not Consume advisory was issued and the drinking water supply was shut off.

"We started doing a lot of anecdotal research," said Conway, "and found out that the well is located beside our maintenance garage. When Transport Canada owned the site it was a big pit. They used to put diesel in it and burn it and put fire retardant on it to put it out. So, we think the contamination could be from the site right beside the well."

Conway said that the town has written to Transport Canada in detailed form, chronologically describing what happened, what they are seeing with test results and including the anecdotal evidence.

"We're adamant that this gets solved. It's something we inherited and we want it solved," he said.

According to a news bulletin on Transport Canada's website that discusses their plan to test airports that they have previously owned for PFAS, "Transport Canada will share all results with the transferred airport operators and will offer guidance on possible next steps."

However, Transport Canada responded to this reporter's request for information by saying, "The environmental condition of La Ronge Airport along with all on-site sampling and investigation activities is the responsibility of the Town of La Ronge as the airport operator. It is up to the airport operator to determine their next steps."

A request for other airports which might be similarly affected has been filed with Transport Canada's Access to Information and Privacy branch.


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