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Fuel clean-up underway

Courtesy Google Maps

Community members were notified about the presence of fuel in a creek by the Zachary Road area this Monday – days after the Kahnawake Environmental Protection Office (KEPO) first learned of it on Friday, February 9. 

Workers with KEPO discovered the fuel that Friday after a complaint came from a resident about the odour of gasoline, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) shared in a notice Monday.  

It was later discovered after the complaint came in around 7 p.m. that fuel was leaking from a resident’s sump pump into a run-off ditch, KEPO shared in a statement with The Eastern Door. It was also then found in a nearby creek that leads to the Suzanne River. The fuel there isn’t believed to have originated from the homeowner, the office said. A clean-up started immediately after, running until 3 a.m.

“As soon as they got the call and monitored everything out there they started to deal with it,” said MCK chief Cody Diabo, the lead on the environment portfolio. 

A stretch of the Suzanne River in Kahnawake’s territory up to the Chateauguay border was also found to be contaminated, KEPO said.

The fuel discovered last Friday may have originated from a spill in Chateauguay that spread from a site near the river the city shares with Kahnawake, KEPO stated.

“They do have oil on site there in tanks,” said Diabo. “We had witnessed some fuel spillage in a ditch there and can trace it into Kahnawake.”

The chief has been in contact with the mayor of Chateauguay as the two jurisdictions collaborate with each other to tackle the problem.

Quebec’s environmental ministry confirmed the presence of fuel was reported to them by Environment Canada at a site near the Kahnawake-Chateauguay border earlier this Monday. It’s likely the remnants of a spill from a tank truck at a parking lot there on February 1, said Ghizlane Behdaoui, a spokesperson for the ministry. 

Firefighters and police responded then, she said, cleaning up the site and doing their best to prevent spread toward the river – however it seems their efforts weren’t fruitful. On Wednesday, a spill-response team from the province also attended the site, located at 2325 Ford Boulevard, she said. 

“They’re going to return and continue monitoring to ensure everything is going well and that the environment is protected and the population remains safe,” Behdaoui said.

Whether this is the source of the fuel in Kahnawake however is still being determined, she said, as the investigation is still ongoing. 

“Is it from the spill that happened on February 1? Or was it something else? I don’t think we can pinpoint something right now,” said Chateauguay mayor Eric Allard, who added they’re still awaiting the findings of the investigation. 

KEPO is continuing to carry out the clean-up, working in collaboration with Public Security, Public Works, and a spill-response team from the federal government.. Since then, workers have taken measures to absorb fuel from the creek. Outside professionals were also hired to vacuum out pooled fuel found in ditches by homes in the area.

Water safe to drink

Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) has been testing the drinking water from wells along the road since Monday, reporting the water in the area is safe to drink. Some residents however were unhappy to hear they’d been drinking water for days without any knowledge it could have been contaminated.

Many residents in the area were only notified by the MCK about the spill on Monday, through a Facebook post at noon. It asked residents relying on wells there to avoid drinking the water and to avoid the impacted creek and river.

One mother who lives nearby said her children were drinking their home’s water because they had yet to learn about the spill until then. She declined to share her name, citing ties to someone involved in the response to the leak.

“Why were we not told right away not to drink it?” she said. “I would have expected a knock on my door.”

Diabo understands why some in the area are upset. If there’s some on Zachary Road who’ve yet to be contacted, he said it’s only because they weren’t identified as being at risk. 

“When everything was unfolding on the ninth, we didn’t know yet the information we know today. We had limited information at the time and we were still assessing,” he said. “I know there’s individuals who are rightfully so concerned. I think at this moment it’s best to remain calm.”

The Environmental Health Safety (EHS) team from KSCS also dropped off pamphlets at homes in the area earlier this Monday, said Mark J. Horne, the team’s lead. Any residents who want their water tested or have something to report are also being encouraged to reach them at 450-635-9945.

“If they detect the scent of diesel fuel or oil, then they’re to notify EHS or Public Safety immediately,” Horne said. 

The drinking water from the homes nearby will also continue to be monitored for up to the next two weeks, Horne said. 

Karihwanó:ron School, which is near the creek, temporarily moved its classes to the Kahnawake Youth Centre (KYC) on Tuesday as a precaution. They reopened the next day after water and air quality tests revealed nothing to worry about, said Joely van Dommelen, administrator at the Mohawk immersion school. 


This article was originally published in print on February 16 in issue 33.07 of The Eastern Door.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.

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Miriam Lafontaine is a reporter with the Eastern Door. Her work has appeared in Le Devoir, CBC Montreal, CBC New Brunswick as well as the Toronto Star.