A late evening interview with biologist Jennifer Yeow of Passmore Labs comes clean about water testing, long-term monitoring, and fuel levels in the Slocan Valley watershed. Yeow is a microbiologist with a degree in biology who has worked as a lab analyst and supervisor for 20 years. It may be a cliché but unfortunately, an apt one: it’s a good news/bad news story.
The Good News
In the long tradition of independence in the Slocan Valley, if you don’t trust someone else to do it right, you do it yourself. At the request of Area H Director Walter Popoff, the regional district has come up with a $15,000 grant to fund the work of Slocan River Streamkeepers. Yeow says the gravity of the post-spill situation mandates the group doing water testing to reassure valley residents their water is safe. Public perception is firmly in the camp that neither Interior Health nor the Ministry of Environment (MoE) have done enough to set residents’ minds at ease about their water.
“Because of the spill we’re going to be using those funds to do water testing,” says Yeow. “This goes along with our larger plan to create a conservation plan for the river. The tests we are doing are a pretty extensive fingerprint as to whether there’s petroleum there or not. We’ll have results in about a week.”
The samples collected by Streamkeepers on the 10th and 13th were taken from the first side channel below Lemon Creek. Some did have distinct kerosene odour, Yeow reports. The samples were tested for total extractable petroleum hydrocarbons (EPH), which are carbon with 10 – 19 chain length. The laboratory detection level for the test is 0.2 parts per million—still below the Provincial Standard for drinking water at 5 parts per million. It’s a standard many question.
In the Still More Good News department, there’s also a program to help people pay for well testing, to be administered by Nelle Maxey and the folks at the Recovery Centre. And Walter Popoff has announced that a further $10,000 will be made available to the WE Graham Community Services Society food bank in Slocan to assist residents who lost their garden produce to the fuel spill.
The Bad News: Many Areas Still Toxic
This morning (August 23) I spent over three hours at the Recovery Centre in Winlaw, listening to residents grilling Ministry of Environment staffer Brad McCandlish. Many simply don’t buy the notion that the stipulated MoE “endpoints” in the remediation process have been reached. Indeed, while I was at the Centre, a resident who lives very near Ground Zero of the spill site brought in a dead hummingbird she found that morning, still clinging to a branch when it died.
As Jane Flotron, the Appledale resident who spoke in the full media glare of the July 30th public meeting pointed out, she and other residents are seeing evidence of jet fuel that contradicts MoE’s conclusions. The stipulated ‘endpoints’ include “no sheen” or “no rainbow sheen” at nine sampling sites from Lemon Creek through the first 10 kilometres of Slocan River. Yet about a half dozen residents at the Centre Thursday morning told McCandlish they still see “rainbow sheen” in many locations—and not ‘bio-sheen,’ either.
Lemon Creek resident Jon Burden says the Spidex stopped at the trestle bridge on the creek and didn’t go all the way to the confluence with Slocan River as originally planned. Flotron hasn’t heard of any tests being done since August 16 when the Spidex began its work in Lemon Creek, something she finds odd. “It suggests to me the accuracy is skewed if we don’t have the full range of data from this time period. And without testing at the confluence where the booms are we’re not able to know if there’s still fuel there.”
Flotron, who is pregnant and has a daughter who is immune compromised, says she’s not convinced enough is being done to protect children. Every September she and other locals take a school group into the river valley to teach them about the ecosystem. Kids get to collect samples like scientists and look at insect and microbial life under school microscopes. But not this year.
“I don’t feel confident I can do that this year,” says Flotron, “but if I just follow MoE guidelines they say go ahead and do it.”
And despite promises made by Interior Health and the regional district to her at the July 30 public meeting, no one from these agencies has shown up at her home yet to offer help. To its credit, Interior Health had two staff members at the Centre while I visited, taking note of residents’ concerns.
The Long View: Monitoring
A community meeting held Thursday evening, August 22 attended by Yeow and environmental remediation consultant Anita Burke came up with some definite requirements for long-term monitoring. Yeow says the Ministry of Environment appears not to have adequately tested the Lemon Creek wetlands, a critical component of the watershed. Naturally, Interior Health lifted the ban based on levels reported to them by the MoE in the areas they did test. EFC must file a long-term monitoring plan with MoE by August 30.
Burke explained at the meeting about airflow models in post-spill monitoring. These show how the air will flow given the velocity and temperature of water within an ecosystem. They are critical for monitoring population exposure to dangerous levels of fuel or oil. These do not seem to have been used following the Lemon Creek spill. I mistakenly reported in the August 21 Valley Voice that the MoE had released airflow data. They haven’t.
“They should have been using those models to figure out the concentration of that fuel in the air as it moved down the river immediately after the spill,” says Yeow, “because this was something that really affected people, especially older folks or sensitive people. There were people who were in the water who got exposed to it.”
Given the general level of distrust that seems to prevail at the moment, it’s in EFC and MoE’s interests to go the long haul with monitoring. Yeow is hopeful that they will allow for public input into the plan and that it will provide monitoring for at least a year after the spill.
“We have some things that we want to see in the long-term program,” says Yeow. “Things like the airflow and the wetlands sampling. How often do they test? We’ll have to find out. This is really going to assure the public their water is safe.”
Burke has also emphasized that the community needs to carefully organize its sampling regime so that results can’t be discounted and valuable volunteer effort is not wasted.
The Community Speaks: Open Letter to the Ministry of Environment, the Interior Health Authority and Executive Flight Centre
As a result of multiple community meetings we have organized around our concern for the health and safety of our community. As concerned community members we have consulted experts in the field of spill clean-up and remediation.
As a result of these consultations we request that the Ministry of Environment, the Interior Health Authority and Executive Flight Centre take the following actions:
- That ongoing testing be performed especially in areas that experts identified as potential hotspots for spill contamination, some of which were left out of the initial testing. We would also like more conclusive testing of ‘biosheen,’ to confirm the claims that these areas are not contaminated by the spill. We have identified specific locations of supposed “biosheen” that we would like laboratory tested.
- Given the recent results of persistent contamination found through test results in key locations, we would like clarification of end-points as defined by the Ministry of Environment and confirmation that end-points have indeed been reached before clean-up crews are retired.
- That support for research and development of a bioremediation strategy (microbial, phyto, and mycoremediation) be provided to assist the community, and experts retained by the community, in further remediation and restoration of the impacted environment.
We would like to request that a formal process be established to include the community in the remediation process. We will continue to work to pursue these requests and develop a clear and formal process.
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