Hazardous contaminants from former industrial operations still linger in a now largely residential area of Edmonton. Newly released soil sample results reveal that more than 12 per cent of 1,457 soil samples collected in the 2017-18 period were contaminated with levels of dioxins and furans that pose a risk to human health.
An associated health risk assessment has detected an above-average number of three types of cancer among residents who have lived in the Homesteader neigbhourhood in the city’s northeast quadrant for at least 10 years. Public health officials are stressing that further study is required before definitive links can be drawn between the contaminants and elevated numbers of women with breast or endometrial cancer and men with lung cancer.
“Alberta Health will be working immediately with federal experts to conduct a field epidemiology investigation to understand more about the population health factors that might have contributed to higher rates of these three cancers,” states the public health communiqué that accompanied the Alberta government’s release of soil test data last week.
The issue has been in dispute since Alberta Environment and Parks refused to issue an remediation certificate for a proposed development site where treated wood products such as railroad ties and telephone/hydro poles had been produced for more than 60 years until the late 1980s. The owners subsequently appealed that ruling.
Nearby residents were alerted last year when the Alberta government ordered control measures and further testing. The vast majority of problematic soil samples were taken from vacant land that has been fenced off to prevent the public from gaining access, but health and environmental authorities are concerned that some contaminants have been carried off-site via groundwater or the removal of soil and debris that may have been used as fill in other construction projects.
“Because of the installed fencing, dust control and current snow cover, there is little risk of exposure,” the communiqué maintains. “As a precautionary measure, until more is known from the epidemiology investigations, women who have lived in this area for 10 or more years should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits of starting breast cancer screening at the age of 40.”
The development site will remain idle until an okay to proceed is issued. Cleanup of “areas of specific concern” is promised later this spring, while the bill goes to the landowners.
“Remediation of those locations remains the responsibility of the companies previously ordered by Alberta Environment and Parks to clean up the site,” the Alberta government reiterates.