MAC: Mines and Communities

Arsenic update

Published by MAC on 2007-08-25

Arsenic update

25 August 2007

Arsenic found in soil around Grand Lake

Official gives precautions for eating food grown in area

STEPHEN LLEWELLYN, The Daily Gleaner, New Brunswick

25th August 2007

An organic farmer in Cumberland Bay says he's discouraged by new test results that show levels of arsenic in the soil near the coal-fired Grand Lake Generating Station exceed national standards.

"My wife says we should sell (our property) because what is the sense of living downwind from something that spews arsenic in the air," said Randy Nason on Friday. "Maybe my land is OK. But if my land is polluted with arsenic, it is worthless."

Nason farms organic beef and organic asparagus on 130 hectares of land about 3.5 kilometres from the power plant.

On Friday, the provincial government issued a news release stating the Department of Environment collected soil samples from 10 properties in the Grand Lake area from July 10-11.

In two of the samples, arsenic levels exceeded Canadian Soil Quality Guidelines.

The guideline for arsenic is 12 milligrams per kilogram. One test result was 22 milligrams per kilogram and the other was 94 milligrams per kilogram.

The other eight samples were below the guideline.

"Although these two samples were taken from properties located near Grand Lake Generating Station property, it is not yet known whether or not emissions from the generating station are the source of the arsenic concentrations," said the government release.

The department took additional samples from the two sites that exceeded the guidelines and results exceeding the guidelines were detected again.

The arsenic concentrations in the second set of tests were 35 milligrams per kilogram and 88 milligrams per kilogram.

According to the provincial Department of Health, arsenic is considered to be a cancer-causing agent if consumed in high concentrations over a lifetime.

Ingesting excessive amounts of inorganic arsenic can cause irritation of the stomach, resulting in stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

High doses can decrease blood-cell production, cause abnormal heart rhythms, blood vessel damage and impaired nerve function.

It has also been linked to developmental problems in children.

"I am concerned for the health of the people who live really close to the plant," said Nason.

The Department of Environment said in a statement that concentrations of arsenic that exceeds the guidelines doesn't necessarily pose any significant health risk. But it does indicate that further study of the site is warranted.

Dr. Cristin Muecke, a medical officer of health for Region 3, said Friday in a statement that to reduce exposure to arsenic in the soil, simple precautions should be taken.

These include carefully scrubbing fruit and vegetables grown in soil with a high concentration of arsenic and washing hands before eating.

The Department of Environment also collected samples of lake water from Grand Lake on Aug. 12. Those samples are currently being tested.

Mark Glynn, an engineer with the department, said those test results should be known in a few weeks.

The department is also planning to test 20 domestic wells located within 500 metres of the power plant property.

NB Power, which operates the Grand Lake power plant, announced Friday it will hire an independent expert to assess the soil and water data collected in the area.

"We've had our first meeting with the consultant this morning," said NB Power spokeswoman Heather MacLean. "It is a priority to us. We will be moving forward immediately."

She said the utility doesn't know when the new test results will be complete.

"We want to know what the source is," said MacLean.


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