An investigation by environmental consultants in the Canadian province of Newfoundland has revealed the presence of asbestos, benzene and other toxins at many youth soccer and baseball fields. The sites in the town of Botwood were reclaimed from a former paper manufacturing plant and renovated as athletic fields. Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in environmental testing and assessments, released the report last week regarding the levels of dangerous substances they found in the area.
According to the report, the soil in and around the athletic fields contained high concentrations of asbestos, benzene, toluene and numerous other industrial chemicals. Asbestos, typically used in wall insulation and fireproofing materials, is known to cause mesothelioma, a form of cancer that targets the sot tissue lining around the lungs. Benzene is also a carcinogen and causes irritation in the eyes, nose, lungs and skin of those exposed to it.
The Botwood site was once home to a paper processing plant and storage facility owned by Montreal-based Abitibi-Consolidated. From 1905 until the mid-1960s, the site served as a warehouse for paper products. During Newfoundland winters, when the nearby Botwood harbor became impassable due to excessive icing, the company used the warehouse to hold paper and other manufacturing materials until the spring thaw. Abitibi-Consolidated merged with South Carolina-based Bowater in 2007, when the company was renamed Abitibi-Bowater.
During the 1960s, the company took down the warehouses and built the athletic fields. The company sold the site to the town during the 1990s, but the deed was never finalized. Shortly after the purchase, Abitibi contracted another environmental consulting firm, Jacques-Whitford, to test the soil at the site. When Jacques-Whitford delivered its findings to Abitibi, the Newfoundland provincial government requested a copy. Abitibi ignored all requests for copies from local officials, but did send the results to Conestoga-Rovers and Associates.
Conestoga-Rovers later sent their test results to the provincial government. Charlene Johnson, the Newfoundland Minister of Environment and Conservation, said that the results showed that the chemicals and asbestos lie below the surface, not within the topsoil where they could be disturbed. While she recommended against building any structures at the site due to potential air circulation and vapor issues, she said that the use of the site as a ball field is “not a health and safety concern”.
However, the dispute between the province and Abitibi is far from settled. Newfoundland officials have sued the company in a Quebec court to make them pay for more intensive testing as well as the site cleanup costs. The company also has several other sites in the province, including mines near the town of Buchans that showed traces of asbestos in its waste products and two other paper mills.
Test results at the Grand Falls-Windsor paper mill also showed asbestos as well as PCBs and arsenic in the soil. Safety concerns still abound concerning these sites, since airborne asbestos poses a severe health hazard. Airborne asbestos fibers can pass through lung tissue, causing respiratory ailments and certain forms of cancer.
Sources: New Glasgow News, Wikipedia