Residents shouldnt panic about contaminated sites report: OBrien

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The former Abitibi-Consolidated mill site is seen in Stephenville Thursday. Star photo by Frank Gale

Stephenville -

A report identifying toxic materials at the former Abitibi-Consolidated mill site in Stephenville has not alarmed Mayor Tom O'Brien.

The report was completed by Conestega-Rovers & Associates, a consulting firm based in Waterloo, Ont., which reported on a number of sites in the province controlled by troubled newsprint company AbitibiBowater.

Investigators with the consulting company detailed a long list of environmental hazards in Stephenville, including arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium.

The mill in Stephenville was shut down in 2005.

"This is not something we need to have the public panic about," O'Brien said. "The fact is this is still a secure site with AbitibiBowater management personnel still in place and the public does not have access to where these contaminants are located."

He said the site is more environmentally friendly today than when it was operating; however, he recognized more cleaning up is required.

All the bunker "C" oil tanks and the lines connecting to them have been cleaned, and all radioactive material and mercury has been removed from the site in addition to other cleanup, according to O'Brien.

While there was some talk of explosive materials on the site, he said the town has no knowledge there is any there. In relation to PCB material on the site, there is some, but it is within the allowable limits.

"But that's not to say it doesn't need to be cleaned up," he said.

That will require a judgment factor on the scale of seriousness of the material which is in the soil in an isolated area.

O'Brien said he couldn't comment on whether the PCB material is Abitibi's or left over from the former U.S. Air Force base in the town as that's a discussion between AbitibiBowater and the provincial government.

He said AbitibiBowater had a plan in place for environmental cleanup and is in discussion with the Newfoundland and Labrador government on whose responsibility it is for some of the contaminants on the site.

O'Brien said unfortunately in Stephenville the town has had considerable experience with environmental issues - more that it would have cared to have.

"Let's not forget that a number of years ago the federal government entered into an agreement with the United States government regarding the cleanup of former U.S. military bases in Canada and for some reason unknown to us Stephenville was not included in that agreement," O'Brien said.

He said with AbitibiBowater in creditor protection it would certainly be a concern whether they would have the ability at the end of the day to do the cleanup they are responsible for.

"But with that said you'd have the same concern with any company you were dealing with in creditor protection," O'Brien said.

When the mill closed an environmental assessment of the property was done and a plan to address the environmental concerns made. During the process of carrying out the plan for environmental remediation of the property they went into creditor protection, which O'Brien said has delayed their plans, but with the Stephenville property they were showing they were being responsible for the period leading up to creditor protection.

"It's our hope they will make it through the creditor protection process and be in a position to complete environmental remediation plans they embarked upon after the closure of the mill," he said.

Organizations: AbitibiBowater, Abitibi-Consolidated, U.S. Air Force

Geographic location: Stephenville, United States, Abitibi Newfoundland and Labrador Canada

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