Cadets Researching Contamination of World Heritage Site!

by M0917 Dean Fleet

Kingston Inner Harbour

Visitors and residents of Kingston know this place for its rich history and contribution to Canada. RMC has been providing her Majesty with officers since its inception, and in recent years, RMC has been helping to clean up historical contaminants from the Kingston area in what promises to be a showpiece for modern environmentalism. Since 1998, the Environmental Sciences Group (ESG) at RMC has been actively involved in research to assess the environmental status of the Kingston Inner Harbour (KIH); this is the portion of the famed Rideau Canal just north of the Lasalle causeway to Belle Island. In days gone by the Rideau Canal provided a vital waterway to our capital city, and provided part of the impetus for a military buildup in this area. In fact, the Kingston’s fortifications and the Rideau Canal have been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The west bank of the Inner harbour was formerly an industrial area which supported a lead smelter from the late 1800s until 1916, and the empire’s largest tannery from 1909 to 1973. Belle Island itself was used as a landfill from 1952 until 1974. These activities have left behind a legacy of contaminated sediments.

Cadets Conducting Field WorkUnder the tutelage of Dr. Ken Reimer, RRMC and RMC professor, ESG has been investigating the nature and extent of the sediment contamination in the KIH. Furthermore, it has been RMC cadets co-supervised by Dr. Reimer and Dr. Barb Zeeb who have been doing the dirty work, so to speak.  With academic oversight, and outside labs doing the testing, the cadets were not only able to earn credit and gain knowledge, but work has significantly contributed to the scientific assessment of the sediment contamination. Although these cadets were not the first to study the area, their work has been filling in the information gaps identified by previous studies which found that in some portions of the KIH sediment contaminant concentrations exceed both federal guidelines and provincial standards. The primary contaminants of concern (CoCs) are chromium (used in the tanning process), as well as lead, zinc, and copper among others… These contaminants have the potential to affect the organisms living in the sediment, and work their way up the food chain from there. The work of the cadets is helping to refine understanding of the magnitude and spatial distribution of the contamination as well as the areas in the KIH where these legacy contaminants are having ecological impacts.

Until recently, ESG has only been allowed to study the water and not the former Davis Tannery site or the Orchard Marsh Kingston Inner Harbourimmediately to its north, which are also contaminated as a result of past industrial activities. At this juncture it seems prudent to explain the difference between contamination and pollution. ESG defines contamination as being “The presence of a chemical/substance in a soil, groundwater or sediment at a concentration greater than background levels, or which exceeds the concentration in provincial/federal guidelines;” Pollution is defined as “Contamination that prevents the functioning of natural processes and produces undesirable environmental and health effects.” On a positive note, the contamination has been contained by geography and chemistry, as the LaSalle Causeway helps to keep the Inner Harbour sediments where they are, and the metals are tightly bound to the sediments and are therefore not easily spread or taken up by plants and animals living in or on the sediments.x

Cadets Conducting Field Work 2006The Davis Tannery was abandoned in the early seventies Due to the contamination the site was declared a brownfield (industrially contaminated land) and considered undevelopable in its current environmental state. The site remained abandoned and a tax delinquent property until very recently. The orphan status of the former Davis Tannery property changed in 2004 with the introduction of the Ontario Brownfield legislation and the City of Kingston’s Community Improvement Plan for brownfields. This new legislation in effect allows potential developers to purchase brownfield lands, and then write off taxes against the expense of cleaning up the land. Rideau Renewal Incorporated (RRI) purchased these lands in 2007, and has provided ESG access to the property as a research site to develop innovative tools for assessing risks to human health and the environment and reducing the cost and environmental impact of remediation projects. As part of this research an extensive site characterization and environmental site assessment has been carried out. Numerous cadets have been involved in the research efforts, and multiple theses have been written by them.

The brown, red, and orange areas show chromium values above normal levels

The brown, red, and orange areas show chromium values above normal levels

To put all of this into the proper focus, the groups and individuals involved need to be elaborated upon. Government organizations who have a stake in the outcome, or own many of the rights in the area include: Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Environment Canada, Transport Canada, Parks Canada, City of Kingston, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the DND. All of these organizations meet quarterly with ESG and RRI as part of the Cataraqui River Stakeholder Group (a group which came about in 2006 at the suggestion of the former CFB Kingston base Commander Col (now BGen) 13706 Larry Aitken (RRMC RMC 1982). In 2005, the federal government created the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP) through which government agencies can request funds to clean up their lands, as Parks Canada and Transport Canada both own portions of the canal bed, they are eligible recipients. All of this is very timely as cleaning up the sediments without cleaning the lands is not a feasible solution; depending on the mobility of the contaminants surface run off and groundwater discharges to the river could potentially re-contaminate the sediments. However, with the cooperative and collaborative approach that can now be undertaken; the entire area can essentially be treated as one clean up site.

Under the supervision of the Stakeholder Group, ESG, and by extension RMC cadets, have been researching the extent of the contamination since 2006, which has contributed to the collective understanding of the problem and how best to manage it. Traditionally, Canada has used a ‘dig and dump’ approach to cleaning contaminated sites. This involves, as one might expect, transporting the contaminated soil elsewhere (i.e. toxic landfills). Such methods, although expedient, would miss the opportunity that Kingston has to show this site off as a model for future clean ups elsewhere in the country. Dutch firms are being brought in to advise and demonstrate the soil washing technologies that they have been employing for two decades owing to reduced land mass and legislation that greatly limits landfilling. Potential long term usage of the site could be for residential properties, but in the meantime, plans exist to set up the area as an interactive display of environmental cleaning technologies. This would bring in not only tourist dollars to the city, but given the importance of the region to Canada’s history and RMC’s contribution to both Kingston and Canada, it would be exactly as Dr. Reimer’s mission statement reads: “A Legacy of the Past; A Vision for the Future.”

Below is a list of  some of the many cadets who have participated in this project. We regret if we missed anyone:Cadets at poster presentation 2007

23793 Adam Asquini (RMC 2007)
23993 Rachel Clow (RMC 2008)
24000 Cherilyn Dignan (RMC 2008)
24010 Breanne Gibson (RMC 2008) (M.Sc. Candidate)
23453  Christy Goodberry (RMC 2006)
24031 James Lee (RMC 2008)
23495 Alexander Mather (RMC 2006)
23785 Matt McLeod (RMC 2007)
24229 Fallon  McIntyre (RMC 2008)
20821 Marie Parisien (RMC 1997)
20841 Aamir Sadiq (RMC 1997)
20863 Jean-Francois Tremblay (RMC 1997)
24081 Alex Sheasby (RMC 2008)
23534 Rebecca Snyder(2006)
23535 Clark Sollows (RMC 2007)
23539 Jami Leigh Suchan (RMC 2006)
23685 Martin Tetreault (RMC 2007)
23971 Charles Wood (RMC 2008)
22631 Michelle Conolly (RMC 2003)
22657 Jonathan Michaud (RMC 2003)
22693 Mojisola Lemire (née Erinle) (RMC 2003)
Mark Tinney (M.Sc.)
David Burbridge (M.Sc. Candidate)
Shawn Milley (M.Sc. Candidate)