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UPDATED: Environmental consultant says chemicals found in Humber Canal pose no risk to drinking water


The mysterious barrels found at the bottom of the Deer Lake Canal were empty when they were being used for their original purpose and have never posed a risk to drinking water.
That was the conclusion of a report conducted on the 74 metal drums removed from the canal in early June and 18 samples of the sediment surrounding them.
The canal was built in the 1920s to float harvested pulpwood destined for the paper mill in Corner Brook, and to divert water to the Deer Lake Power hydroelectricity plant that provides much of the mill’s energy requirements.
The canal is also the municipal drinking water supply for the town of Deer Lake and the neighbouring towns of Reidville and Nicholsville.
The drums are believed to have been in the water sine the 1950s or even as far as back as the 1930s. Yet, it was only after a video surfaced in 2017, showing metal objects protruding from the canal when the water levels were low, that the provincial environmental department demanded an investigation.
That led to the identification of the drums in the canal’s forebay near the intake for the powerhouse and the water distribution system.
The Town of Deer Lake and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper hired Stantec Consulting Ltd. to properly remove the drums and file an environmental report to determine if their presence had any impact on drinking water quality.
The subsequent testing did indicate the presence of some chemicals of concern in the sediment, including petroleum hydrocarbons and PCBs, but none at levels posing a risk to human health.
The findings were released at a news conference held by the town, the paper company and the consultant last Wednesday.
“While it’s impossible to say what exactly was in the drums, the best information we have – and that’s from talking to people in the area and looking at old historical photographs – is that the drums were used during the pulpwood transport throughout the canal to float wooden booms people would walk on as part of rafting the wood forward,” said Darren Pelley, Corner Brook Pulp and Paper’s vice-president and general manager.
All of the removed barrels were either heavily deteriorated or had holes in them. According to the Stantec report, they had nothing in them but canal water.
Bryan Leece, a senior toxicologist with Stantec, said at the news conference the chemicals found at the site were typical of the kind and amounts that could be expected in the environments of any water supply.
Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball called it a good news day for the town and neighbouring communities that share the water supply. He reiterated regular testing of Deer Lake’s municipal water supply throughout the years has never indicated any issues with quality, including before, during and after the drum removal process.
Not everyone was ready to willingly accept the report’s findings. Deer Lake resident Richard Dewey has been publicly vocal about his concerns that industrial debris in the canal has compromised the supply’s safety ever since he brought public attention to it in 2017.
Dewey, who was charged with mischief when he tried to attend the drum removal process in early June, was not permitted into the news conference Wednesday. Nor was any member of the general public.
Ball said the news conference was meant for the media, community representatives and officials from the paper company and Stantec.
The mayor said the entire 270-page report is available on the Town of Deer Lake’s website for the general public to read.
“We didn’t want to come in here today and get into stuff there was no need of,” said Ball. “This is a great news story. Fearmongering is just a piece of how some people do work. We don’t need that. We have a clean and safe drinking water supply.”
Outside the town office, Dewey said the town and the company just didn’t want to answer the questions he still has.
“I think it’s absolutely shameful,” said Dewey. “They said it was for stakeholders. I don’t know anyone more of a stakeholder than a resident of Deer Lake, or Reidville or Nicholsville. Why this was blocked off for us to see is total opposite of what they said from Day 1…We haven’t seen an ounce of transparency on any of this so far.”
Dewey has entered a not guilty plea to the charge of mischief against him and will go to trial in September.
The cleanup of the canal is not over yet. Pelley said the paper company intends to remove 17 more barrels that were located in the forest near the canal.
Meanwhile, two submerged barges will remain in the canal. Pelley said the barges are made of steel and untreated wood and pose no threat the water quality.

What Stantec’s analysis of the 74 drums and 18 sediment samples taken from the Humber Canal found:
- The drums were deteriorated, had holes in them and were all filled with canal water.
- Petroleum hydrocarbons were detected in 11 of the sediment samples. The report indicated the drums were not the primary petroleum source, but analysis could not clearly identify what the source was. This suggests the petroleum hydrocarbons identified were likely the remains of a highly-weathered fuel oil source and possibly some decaying vegetation.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were detected in four of the sediment samples and PCBs were detected in two samples.
- The levels of petroleum hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and in one of the two samples containing PCBs exceeded the acceptable levels for the protection of freshwater and marine aquatic life. However, these standards are ecological heath guidelines that are not applicable for human receptors and are used for reference only. 
- The Stantec report concluded the presence of the contaminants detected at low levels in isolated samples has had a negligible impact on water and the surrounding environment.
Source: Stantec Consulting Ltd.

(Earlier story)

Chemicals were found in the area of the Humber Canal where decades-old barrels were removed earlier this year.
But an environmental report on the detected contaminants by Stantec Consulting Ltd. has concluded the impact on Deer Lake’s drinking water supply was negligible.
The findings were released at a news conference held by the Town of Deer Lake and Corner Brook Pulp and Paper in the town Wednesday.
The paper company conducted the removal of 74 drums from the canal in early June. The sunken barrels are believed to have been under the water in the municipal water supply since at least the 1950s.
The canal is also the water source for Deer Lake Power, the hydroelectricity plant that provides much of the power used by the paper mill in Corner Brook.
Darren Pelley, the mill’s general manager, said there is no reliable way to determine exactly how the barrels wound up in the canal. The belief is the empty barrels were used to support wooden booms used to raft pulpwood into the canal decades ago.
The barrels removed were heavily deteriorated and the report indicated they were filled with canal water.
A total of 18 sediment samples were taken from the area where the drums had been located and were tested for a variety of parameters.
Petroleum hydrocarbons were detected in several of the sediment samples. The report indicated analysis could not clearly identify a petroleum source, suggesting the petroleum hydrocarbons identified were likely the remains of a highly-weathered fuel oil source and possibly some decaying vegetation.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were detected in three of the sediment samples and PCBs were detected in two samples.
The Stantec report concluded the presence of the contaminants detected at low levels in isolated samples has had a negligible impact on water and the surrounding environment.
Bryan Leece, a senior toxicologist with Stantec, said at the news conference the chemicals found at the site were typical of the kind and amounts that could be expected in any water supply.
Deer Lake Mayor Dean Ball called it a good news day for the town and the neighbouring communities that share the water supply. Ball reiterated that regular testing of Deer Lake’s municipal water supply has never indicated any issues with quality, including during and after the drum removal process.
Not everyone was ready to willingly accept the report’s findings. Deer Lake resident Richard Dewey has been publicly vocal about his concerns industrial debris in the canal has compromised the supply’s safety.
Dewey, who was charged with mischief when he tried to attend the drum removal process in early June, was not permitted into the news conference Wednesday.
Ball said the news conference was meant for the media, community representatives and officials from the paper company and Stantec.
The mayor said the entire 270-page report is available on the Town of Deer Lake’s website for the general public to read.
“We didn’t want to come in here today and get into stuff there was no need of,” said Ball. “This is a great news story. Fearmongering is just a piece of how some people do work. We don’t need that. We have a clean and safe drinking water supply.”
Outside the town office, Dewey said the town and the company just didn’t want to answer the questions he had.
“I think it’s absolutely shameful,” said Dewey, who had yet to read the report. “They said it was for stakeholders. I don’t know anyone more of a stakeholder than a resident of Deer Lake, or Reidville or Nicholsville. Why this was blocked off for us to see is total opposite of what they said from Day 1…We haven’t seen an ounce of transparency on any of this so far.”

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