Gravenhurst substation undergoes arsenic clean up; Ministry of Environment aware of contamination

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MUSKOKA - Clean up of arsenic contamination in Muskoka is the responsibility of property owners. Should the contamination migrate off said property the owner is also obligated to report the issue to the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks.

On Nov 11 Muskoka Post reported that Gravenhurt residents noticed workers wearing hazmat suits in the Bay Street and Muskoka Road North area. Chris Mace, Elexicon Energy corporate communication representative, said field staff and contractors commenced ground grid work and the installation of new fencing at the Bay Substation.

"Due to the presence of arsenic in the soil at the station – likely from historical weed spraying over many years – the workers are dressed in disposable coveralls and wearing half-mask respirators. Steps were also taken to ensure dust was not created for Elexicon staff, contractors or local residents," Mace said.  

Muskoka Post reached out to the MECP to find out if the ministry is aware of the Gravenhurst substation contamination, and if there are other areas in the region which might also be impacted by arsenic. MECP media spokesperson, Gary Wheeler said the ministry has been in touch with Elexicon.

"Elexicon conducted soil samples before starting maintenance excavation work in November and discovered elevated arsenic levels in the soil. The company arranged to have contaminated soil removed from the site. The ministry is aware that there may be contamination at sub stations due to the historical spraying of arsenic-based pesticides and other potential sources. The ministry becomes involved only if there are offsite/off property adverse environmental impacts. The property owner is responsible for complying with all applicable laws, such as ensuring the contaminated material is properly managed. 

In addition, the property owner is responsible for informing the ministry if any contaminated material on the property migrates off the property," Wheeler said.

Muskoka Lakes Coun. Ruth Nishikawa said a similar situation occurred in Bala.

"Along River St. in Bala where a hydro substation sits a clean up was ordered many years ago. I would suggest that this may be the case where other substations are located," she said.

Nishikawa confirmed that a clean up was completed at the Bala substation. 

The MECP indicated that in the past arsenic-containing chemicals were often used by electrical utilities as weed killers and wood preservatives throughout North America. As arsenic does not degrade rapidly over time, it remains residually in soil near substations. 

The Town of Gravenhurst said it first became aware of the potential of arsenic in the soil at that location through email notification from Elexicon in November 2019.

"They indicated they would be doing work at their Bay St. Substation. We are not aware of any other locations that may be impacted. The town does not spray for bugs or mosquitos, however there are annual efforts to combat plant based invasive species, such as hogweed, Japanese knotweed and phragmites on municipal properties using only provincially approved products and licensed applicators. The town is always looking for the most effective environmentally sound options available to eliminate invasive species," said Jason Harentt, Gravenhurst communications director.

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