Digging the dirt on the Glebe

Spring veiled bridges
The Rideau Canal from Bronson to the Ottawa River was recently added to the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory. Photo: Kerry Smith

by Carol MacLeod

Several contaminated sites have been identified recently in and near the Glebe. This is not surprising, given the age of our community, the fact that it has hosted many industrial uses, and that, until fairly recently, we didn’t really worry about soil contamination. But David Reevely, in a December 21, 2016 Ottawa Citizen article, informed us that the charges used to demolish the Sir John Carling building contained phenols, and Jake Romphf, in the November 16, 2017 Centretown News, told us that the Rideau Canal between the Chateau Laurier locks and Bronson had been added to the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory because canal sediments contain unacceptable levels of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, basically hydrocarbons) and heavy metals.

Bank Street from the Queensway to the Canal bridge has been home to many gas stations. Sites included Bank and Strathcona, now the site of the Domicile condos, Bank and Clemow, soon to be new condos, Bank and Glebe (formerly Rogers), the former McKale’s at Bank and Fifth, and what is now the site of the Ecocité condos further south on Bank. As well, Kettleman’s is located on what was once a dry cleaning shop. The usual way to deal with the PAH and heavy metal contamination associated with construction on such sites is to remove the soil and dispose of it offsite under supervision. In most instances, that’s how contaminated soil has been dealt with.

The Lansdowne soil had many toxic compounds associated with a heat plant, curling rink and oil spills, and garbage that was used to backfill the canal that led from the Rideau Canal into the fairgrounds. Most of the contaminated soil dislodged by construction was used to create the hill to the east of the stadium, where it was wrapped in landscape cloth and capped with a metre of clean soil. The hill is now the site of the east end stand for the stadium and the toboggan hill in the park. About 20 wells are supposed to provide access to groundwater, so that it can be regularly tested to ensure that toxins are not leaching from the wrapped contaminated material. The contaminants were left in the soil where the soil was covered with asphalt, such as at the access to the parking garage or the orchard. Annual reports on the results of groundwater testing are posted on the city’s website, goo.gl/jfo3Sj.

The Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory lists three sites adjacent to the Glebe. Across the canal to the north of the Queensway was once the site of a small rail yard. Much of Commissioners’ Park, the former Booth lumberyard and the Dow’s Lake Landfill, is on the federal inventory. There, hydrocarbons and heavy metals have been noted in the soils and groundwater. As long as the soils remain undisturbed, there is no plan for further remediation.

The former Sir John Carling building basement was backfilled with demolition rubble. Besides hydrocarbons and heavy metals, the rubble contained residues from the phenols used in the explosives that brought the building down so spectacularly. Many everyday products contain phenols in very small quantities, but according to the Ottawa office of the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, the Provincial Water Quality Objectives specify no more than one microgram of phenols in surface water. The problem is that groundwater from the property could leach into Dow’s Lake and the Rideau Canal. So the site has been added to the federal list and Public Services and Procurement Canada will excavate the site and remove the contaminated soil prior to hospital construction.

The site most recently added to the list is the bed of the canal from Bronson Avenue to the Chateau Laurier locks, skirting the Glebe. Boat and other commercial traffic over the years have left a deposit of hydrocarbons and heavy metals on surface water and sediments in the canal. The situation is under assessment, but Parks Canada believes that it is not a problem so long as the soil is not disturbed.

 Undoubtedly, other sites in our community have been contaminated by hydrocarbons in low levels. Those sites remain to be identified through historic land-use research. Awareness is a key to managing the contamination in the soil we live on – and the history of land use is a key to that awareness.

Carol MacLeod is chair of the Glebe Community Association Membership Committee, former co-chair of its Environment Committee, and an avid gardener and nature enthusiast.

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