Concerns about groundwater contamination from Faust

Jule Asterisk
REAC and Keepers of the Athabasca

The Osmose Site in Faust next to Lesser Slave Lake has been contaminated since the 1960s, when poles were treated and the residues were burned there.

Some clean-up took place in the 1990s, but contamination today still includes a groundwater plume – contaminated water that spreads out underground in a feather shape (that’s why ‘plume’).

In 2014, Alberta Environment commissioned a report on the toxic plume, stating, “The full extent of the contamination plume and rate of migration has not been completed at this time…” It’s curious that the current report, “Site-Specific Risk Assessment and Exposure Control Plan”, released in April 2018, doesn’t discuss the toxic plume, and it doesn’t mention any environmental clean-up, but ‘capping’ with clay. Could this be because the current report is to protect people accessing the site as a ‘park’, and not to protect the lake, or people using the lake?

You heard right, plans are for a public park in this area, designed and constructed by Big Lakes County. With raised walkways, washrooms and parking, the interpretive signs at this future park will have to warn people that they need to stay on the walkways or risk contamination; no camping, no fires or cooking, no berry picking, no playground. I’m not being sarcastic when I say this could be a wonderful tourist attraction, educating folks about terrible practices in waste management.

Local residents’ concerns include wondering if the toxic groundwater plume has reached Lesser Slave Lake, as the water intake for Faust, Kinuso, Swan River First Nation, and Spruce Point Park is nearby. Standard water testing does not cover arsenic, pentocholophenols or dioxins, the “contaminants of concern”. These are very serious ‘persistent organic pollutants’ that do not degrade in the environment. A recent statement from Alberta Environment that these compounds “seem” to have a “half life of eight years” was roundly dismissed by toxicologists, who said eight years is the time estimated to clean out dioxin from the human body with no new inputs, but that these cancer-causing compounds are dangerously persistent in the environment.

The Exposure Control Plan discusses composition of the ground, and rate of groundwater flow, estimated at 10 metres per year through sand, but some local residents disagree. With the amount of flooding this site has undergone (at least six floods that we know of so far), contaminants could be “washing out” and into the Lesser Slave Lake.

Reported minimum groundwater depth was .62 metres in 1989, and the maximum depth was reported as 2.35 in February 1990; it appears that groundwater can move faster than estimated.

Lake sediment core samples taken by Keepers of the Athabasca, Regional Environmental Action Committee, and Swan River First Nation are now being analyzed. We are excited that CORA lab has offered ‘in-kind’ lab work, due to the urgency of our situation.

Bonnie Raho, Chairperson for REAC said, “All I want is the truth. We’ve talked to government people, environmental people, read studies upon studies for decades. With all of this volunteer work, we have never found out the truth. We asked for specific tests but these were never done so we did it ourselves. I am anxiously waiting for the results of the lake sediment core samples, which will tell us if contamination has reached the lake.”

Today, the small creek to the west of the Osmose Site is flooding, and water is starting to creep over and cover the site from the west. From the east, Old Man Creek is cresting its banks, starting to enter the site.

Looks like another washout for the Faust Osmose site.

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