Whitby harbour chemical leak clean-up launches public information session ahead of project start

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Published February 27, 2023 at 4:49 pm

Whitby Harbour - via Google Maps

The Town of Whitby is holding a public information session before starting a project to clean the lake floor of chemical contamination.

Due to a chemical leakage from a property upstream on Pringle Creek, the sand, silt and mud on the bottom of Lake Ontario has been contaminated in the Whitby Small Craft Harbour.

The harbour is owned by the federal government through Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), which leases the property to the Town of Whitby and to the Whitby Yacht Club.

The DFO has concluded that the chemicals in the sediment at the bottom of the lake, “contain levels of chemicals that could be harmful to fish, birds or humans.”

The chemicals specifically are called dioxins and furans. They are mostly produced by burning municipal and medical waste, but are also caused by iron and steel production; fuel, wood, and household waste burning; and tobacco smoke.

The dioxins and furans generally linger in the air and as a result, can spread across the planet. However, in this case, they leaked directly into the water.

Once introduced into the environment, the dioxin and furans begin to work their way up the food chain. Smaller creatures ingest small amounts and the chemicals remain stored in their body fat. Larger creatures in turn eat the smaller ones and collect more dioxins and furans.

Due to this process,  people ingest about 90 per cent of these chemicals through their diet, as opposed to through the atmosphere. Meat, dairy and fish carry more dioxins and furans than fruits and vegetables.

Per Health Canada heavy exposure to these chemicals can contribute to a range of medical concerns including, skin disorders,  liver problems and certain types of cancers among others.

“These issues are very complex. Scientists do not have all of the answers, but they agree that exposures to dioxins and furans should be kept as low as possible,” Health Canada wrote.

DFO studies of the water in Whitby Harbour has found the risks for mammals and birds are quite low. However, they’ve found that the risk to humans and fish to be a bit higher, in the “moderate” range and need to be addressed.

To reduce these risks the harbour needs to be cleaned up. The DFO is developing a plan to clean the harbour while Ontario is working on a plan to clean up Pringle Creek. The process of developing these plan stretches back to 2008.

The plan as now is to dredge the bottom of the harbour to collect all the contaminated sediment. They’ll then take the sediment to an off-site landfill for disposal.

The project will not start the actual clean-up until at least 2024. However, an informational open house is set for 4 p.m. March 9, at the Port Whitby Marina’s Avalon Lounge at 301 Watson St.

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