Toxic cleanup update
Planning under way for coming season

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Resolution Island (Feb 21/00) - On Resolution Island, concentrations of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) can be found that are up to 160 times higher than Canadian environmental laws currently permit.

The former U.S. Air Force pole-vault site is located 310 kilometres south of Baffin Island. With levels in the soil and in dump sites running as high as 8,000 parts per million, the island has earned the reputation of being the most contaminated abandoned military site in the North.

To bring the site into compliance with the law, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, the site contractor, have spent the last two years cleaning it up. The cost so far has been about $13 million.

This year, the third of a scheduled five-year project, work will focus on actually removing the PCB-contaminated soil from the dump sites around the island.

"Our crews will stockpile it and then containerize the contaminated soils that have been identified in different parts of the site," said Jerry Ell, QC's president.

That work plan, along a review of last year's performance, were the topics on the table when Resolution Island's senior management team -- including representatives from QC, DIAND, Environment Canada, Queen's University and site engineers -- met in Iqaluit recently.

"It was a technical wrap-up for the project we undertook last summer and beginning the planning process for this upcoming season," said Ell.

Also on the agenda was an audit of QC's performance to date -- a test they passed with flying colours said Scott Mitchell, the head of DIAND's contaminated sites office.

"Everyone is viewing last year as a major success for what was done on the island," said Mitchell.

"They accomplished much more than was expected, even with the discovery of the lead dump and the sealift coming in a month late. To our surprise, they did it all anyway," he said.

As for where the focus will turn once the toxic dirt has been cleaned up, Mitchell said they had to wait and see.

"We're trying to play crystal ball right now. The plan this summer is to bulk-store the soils that are dug up until a decision comes down from the (Nunavut Impact Review Board) on the preferred option of disposal," said Mitchell.

Different scenarios include shipping the soil south for remediation or importing technology to the island and taking care of it on site.

Mitchell noted that DIAND was in the process of writing an environmental impact statement to send to the review board and once received, the Nunavut Impact Review Board would put it through the necessary hoops and by the summer or fall, a public review would be held to determine the final outcome.

Mitchell said the form of remediation chosen would determine this year's budget, which ranges between $4.7 to $7.6 million.

A decision is expected on the money by mid-March, at which time public consultation meetings will be held in Iqaluit and Kimmirut. The purpose of those meetings is to keep the public aware of the project's progress.