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15th April 2017
Nortel’s legacy of groundwater contamination concerns Our Lady of Fatima School

NEWS Jul 06, 2016
by Stephen Petrick Belleville News

Belleville – The local Catholic school board is paying close attention to the dissolving of Nortel Networks, as the one-time manufacturing giant is said to be responsible for contamination of groundwater and air quality that poses a concern to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School.

The elementary school, which has about 230 students, is located at 300 Sidney St., next door to the former Nortel plant location of 250 Sidney St., in west-end Belleville.

A letter issued to parents of students sent out by the Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board on June 28, outlines concerns with the land that surrounds the school, which for several years was a heavily utilized industrial area.

However, the letter stresses that measures have been taken to ensure air quality will not harm students and that the groundwater will also not impact students’ health, as the school is connected to the municipal water system.

However, the letter also notes the challenge of ensuring that Nortel is held responsible for cleaning up the area.

“As you might be aware, Nortel Networks is currently involved in bankruptcy proceedings whereby a Court- appointed Monitor is in the process of dissolving the company and disposing of its assets,” states the letter, authored by Doug Campbell, controller of plant and planning services for the board. “The Board wants to ensure that adequate precautions remain in place once Nortel Networks no longer exists, precautions that will continue to maintain our School property in a safe condition.

“The Board, with the oversight of the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) has recently agreed to a restorative action plan which obliges Nortel to complete work intended to further delineate the extent of groundwater contamination in the area. The work plan includes the installation of some additional groundwater monitoring wells including several on the Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School property, as well as some sub-slab vapour probes beneath our school building. Nortel has contracted with Golder Associates, Environmental Engineers to complete this work.”

The letter also outlines the history of the issue, stating that the Catholic board learned that groundwater in the area was contaminated in 2001; presumably as a result of years of Nortel-related industrial work.

“The Board retained XCG Consultants, Environmental Engineers and Scientists to complete Environmental Site Assessments and a Site Specific Risk Assessment for the Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School property. The investigations by XCG included the installation of eight groundwater-monitoring wells on the School property during the summer of 2001. The assessments conducted by XCG Consultants between 2001 and 2004 concluded that, while there was some evidence of groundwater contamination beneath some areas of the Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School property, there was no evidence that this poses a significant health risk. Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School is connected to the Municipal drinking water supply and does not use the groundwater.”

The board has also retained XCG Consultants to complete annual air quality monitoring at the school. This is to ensure there has been no significant vapour migration from the groundwater to the air inside or outside the school area.

Recent results from air sampling investigations, however, did not meet the Ministry’s standards – although the board expressed concern is low.

“The Board has received some data from the recent air sampling investigations conducted by Golder Associates inside Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School, data which indicates some exceedances when measured against the MOECC’s most stringent standards for the volatile organic compound Trichloroethylene (TCE),” the letter stated. “This data has been reviewed by both the MOECC and Public Health Ontario. The MOECC has reassured us that the low concentration of TCE detected in some of the air samples, ‘is not expected to be associated with any immediate health effects and is of low concern.’ Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School continues to be a safe school environment for students and staff.”

The letter says the board will continue to work with environmental consultants to address air sampling results.

A second letter that was sent to parents on July 6, following a public meeting held at the school a day earlier, said that the board will proceed with a remedial action plan this summer.

“Golder Associates (consultants for Nortel) in consultation with the Board and XCG Consulting, are in the process of designing upgrades to the ventilation systems at the School and are also assessing the feasibility of a sub-slab depressurization system. The work to install these systems will be planned for completion this summer and we will do everything possible to meet that schedule. Additional air quality monitoring will be conducted at the end of August to ensure that these systems are functioning as designed before the start of the new school year in September.

“Exercising an abundance of caution, the Board is developing a contingency plan should circumstances prevent us from completing the upgrades at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School prior to the start of the new school year. In the unlikely event that this may happen, students would be accommodated on a temporary basis at nearby Georges Vanier Catholic School, returning to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School once the upgrades are complete. The Board will be placing some additional modular classrooms at George Vanier Catholic School to ensure that there are classroom spaces ready for every teacher and student for the start of the new school year.”

Nortel was once a large employer in Belleville, but the company began laying off employees by the hundreds in the early 2000s. The Belleville Nortel plant was then taken over by Avaya.

Today, the former Nortel plant is a busy place again, but it is not used for environmentally concerning industrial purposes. Its chief tenant is Strathcona Energy Group, a manufacturer of solar panels. It also houses the Canadian Hybrid Incubator Resource Platform and offices for Metroland Media.