Fencing has been installed as other workers drill core samples (R) in a contaminated parcel at the old wood treatment plant site, Domtar, where a section of unoccupied land nearby was contaminated enough that a metal fencing was erected near 43 St. and Yellowhead Tr. in Edmonton, June 28, 2018.
Ed Kaiser / Postmedia
Residents near the former Domtar site say they feel there’s nothing they can do while the province looks into why that area has elevated rates of three specific types of cancer compared to the rest of Alberta.Dumdubari Bera, a father of three, purchased his home along 126 Avenue about two years ago but soon after moving in, he said government officials told him his property tested higher than normal for contaminates.Bera said his family has kept their windows closed and avoid going into their backyard since being told.“This is basically like being in prison,” he said. “I’ve been working so hard to buy the house and to enjoy it and for my kids to play in the back. It’s very frustrating but there’s nothing I can do.”Last spring, residents near the 37-hectare former Domtar Inc. wood-treatment operation received letters warning their homes were near contaminated land. A big fence went up beside a vacant field north of Yellowhead Trail and east of 50 Street with signs warning the land was contaminated, primarily with dioxins and furans.The Domtar plant, which operated from 1924 to 1987 north of Yellowhead Trail, used toxic chemicals to treat railroad ties, poles, posts and lumber.These contaminates could lead to an increased risk to human health over a long period of time or in large amounts, according to Alberta Health Services. Main routes of exposure are through the mouth, breathing and through the skin.The Homesteader infill site, which includes lands where Domtar operated, is owned by brownfield developer Cherokee Canada. The company argues the community is safe, which Cherokee believes was confirmed by a March Environmental Appeals Board ruling that reversed five of the environmental protection orders initially issued by the province. In place of those five original orders, Alberta’s environment minister issued a new ministerial order and two environmental protection orders detailing dust control measures on the site, as well as a strict timeline for soil testing, mapping and human health risk assessments in the area.Alberta Health Services is asking current and former residents in the northeast Edmonton Homesteader neighbourhood to participate in a study to find out why the area is experiencing higher rates of breast, endometrial and lung cancer. Federal experts are also participating.Among those who lived in the area for 10 years or more there were 34 cases of breast cancer in women, where other parts of the province would normally see 16 to 31 cases; 14 cases of endometrial or uterus cancer in women, where it would have expected three to nine cases; and 22 cases of lung cancer in men, where six to 14 cases would have been expected.While the statistics have caused some worries, others are unperturbed.Mary Popke has lived in the 45 Street area for decades. The 79-year-old said she hasn’t heard of anyone in her neighbourhood having cancer.“So far, everybody seems to be fine in this area,” she said. “I’m the type of person (who believes) you have to look after yourself.”John Dill, managing director of Cherokee, said in an email on Tuesday the company respects the right of AHS to undertake a study of the area but pointed out Alberta’s chief medical officer has found “no causal relationship” between the former site and the three specific types of cancers.“We are disappointed, however, that in advance of actual facts and completion of the study, a link appears to be made between the Domtar site and the cancers,” he said in his email. “Frankly speaking, the highly speculative inferences being made in advance of the study’s completion are inappropriate and irresponsible. In addition, they create unnecessary anxiety and stress for the community members and people who reside in the community.”He added the timing of the review was unfortunate as it could have impacts on the future development of the site.According to the company’s Homesteader Responds website, an updated delineation data report is expected to come out this week on Aug. 9.Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said Alberta Health Services reached out to approximately 13,000 households, which included 3,600 current residents and 9,200 former residents of the area, to fill out an online questionnaire.The 100 questions ranged from the basics like name and medical history to how many different places someone lived in the Homesteader, Overlanders or Canon Ridge communities since 1983.Hinshaw said there could be many reasons for the higher rates of cancer and the study is meant to get a better picture of why that is.“What we want people to know is that we’re doing this investigation so that we can understand better if there’s anything that needs to be done to protect people’s health,” she said. “One of the questions that we sometimes get is whether or not there’s a risk to people’s health simply by living in the community. That’s not what we believe at the moment. We believe that any kind of risks in the community has been dealt with.”Hinshaw added the best way for people to make a difference is by participating in the survey. Residents have until the end of August to fill out the survey. Once all the results are in, health services will look it over and anticipate releasing results sometime next spring.Alberta Environment, under the former NDP-led government, in 2016 slapped Cherokee and Domtar with a number of environmental protection orders but the appeals board’s decision called the demands on the companies too firstname.lastname@example.org