By Lisa Respers France, CNN
Vessels of toxins known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in Quebec’s groundwater for 50 years. But new research released Thursday in the journal, PLOS One, doesn’t hold much good news for residents who live within 100 meters of the sites.
Within the first three weeks after the study was released, several people living near some of the sites reported breathing problems related to high levels of contaminants in their drinking water.
In 1967, a severe water crisis in Quebec left many people with contaminated drinking water and led to some 3,300 abandoned landfills emitting pollutants. The areas that were once landfills no longer have any homes, but PCBs still seep from the ground. The city of Saint-Hyacinthe is one of the areas impacted.
These contaminants were removed through those landfills. In those places where the landfills weren’t removed, water continues to be contaminated with benzene, arsenic, PCBs and other pollutants, creating a cycle of landfills and water contamination.
Researchers at the University of Maine have been working on a way to measure environmental PCBs over time. As part of that research, the researchers collected a sample of groundwater from sites in Newfoundland, Quebec and Connecticut in 2015.
Previous research has found that the concentrations of the chemicals in the water samples above the levels known to affect human health. But the researchers found that some areas in Quebec are contaminated and reach levels of contamination that are still higher than previously determined safe water levels.
The levels in Saint-Hyacinthe reached levels above the limits.
Dr. Lenny Pelzer, a senior scientist at Environmental Defense Fund and team leader at the University of Maine’s King School of Public Health and Land Sciences, said the other plants in the study have been cleaned up and cleaned up well, but the sites in Quebec are still dangerous.
“The average person who has a husband who is employed at the island [seabed] quarry would have a tremendous effect upon their health as a result of this,” Pelzer said.
The State of Maine is responsible for the clean-up and an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup cost of $23 million in 1989. However, many environmentalists argue that much more is needed for the clean-up to fully reach its goals and stop people from getting sick.
The Canadian government has tried to protect people from exposure to the chemicals from Saint-Hyacinthe because of the EPA’s study findings that reported that the pollutants caused lung and other breathing problems. But the study’s results still don’t give residents much comfort.
Environmental Defense Fund has been pushing for authorities to clean up the contaminated areas in Quebec. A resident filed a lawsuit to collect evidence and tried to remove certain chemicals from the groundwater that are still found in the drinking water supply. That same resident also filed a separate complaint with the World Health Organization against Saint-Hyacinthe and a researcher took water samples from both his house and the landfill from which his family was exposed to contaminants while growing up.
A Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services spokesperson said officials are conducting tests in Saint-Hyacinthe. The spokesperson stressed that all of the properties near the landfills are not contaminated. The Ministry of Health and Social Services said it will continue to investigate these impacts and have found no new harm, but says more work needs to be done.