Home News Chateauguay site not to blame, Quebec claims 

Chateauguay site not to blame, Quebec claims 

Courtesy Brandon Rice

Quebec’s environmental ministry confirmed this week it doesn’t believe the recent spill in Chateauguay is to blame for the ongoing cleanup of diesel fuel in Kahnawake.  

It’s now been nearly two months since diesel fuel was first discovered in the community in a creek and river near Zachary Road on February 9. Since then, the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO) has been hard at work looking to identify the source of the fuel, which it theorized resulted from a spill at an industrial site in Chateauguay upstream from the Suzanne River on February 1. It happened at 2325 Ford Boulevard after an ageing tanker truck there began leaking. 

“The ministry believes that the two events are not linked and that they are two distinct situations,” Ghizlane Behdaoui, a spokesperson for Quebec’s environmental ministry, wrote this week.  

She noted the “absence of a direct hydrological link” between the spill on Ford Boulevard and the accumulation of fuel found in the Suzanne River near Zachary Road, adding the river isn’t “bordered by the same arm of the river as that flowing from Chateauguay,” and that “the direction of flow of the river does not match.”  

Behdaoui also said the “significant distance” between both sites and “the fact that the contamination was noted at the surface water level in Chateauguay while the contamination is located at the groundwater level” in Kahnawake also calls KEPO’s theory into question. 

“This would imply migration through the soil, which appears unlikely considering the speed of migration of contaminants in frozen soil,” the spokesperson added. 

An investigation that’s since concluded that was carried out by Environment Canada’s National Environmental Emergencies Center in early March solidified the province’s theory, Behdaoui also said. 

“In addition, Environment Canada compared the chemical profiles of samples taken at the spill site on Ford Boulevard and at the residence located on Zachary Road. This comparison also made it possible to distinguish the two events,” she wrote. 

Lloyd Phillips, the lead on the crisis response team overseeing the fuel cleanup, said the province has yet to propose an alternative spill site outside of Chateauguay. 

“One thing that’s 100 per cent sure, it’s that the fuel in Chateauguay did make it into Kahnawake. You can’t dispute that,” he said. “There still is some investigation we have to do internally in Kahnawake to look for a potential second site, but that doesn’t change the fact that what happened in Chateauguay had a direct impact on our territory.”  

If there’s differences between the fuel samples collected in Chateauguay versus those from Kahnawake, it’s because those collected on the reserve were exposed longer to the elements, said Cody Diabo, the lead on the environment portfolio. 

“Show us another site that’s spilling the diesel fuel. Then we can have that conversation,” Diabo said. “Just because they can’t prove it or disprove it doesn’t mean we can dust our hands off and we’re done. That’s something we’ve got to push back hard on.” 

Brandon Rice has been overseeing the cleanup of fuel in the community for KEPO from day one and was among the first to respond when the complaint came in from a homeowner on Zachary Road about the odour of fuel on February 9. He said there are many indicators that point to the spill in Chateauguay being the source. Fuel samples collected at the industrial site there match the fuel type also found in Kahnawake. With the timing and proximity of the spill site to Suzanne River close to Zachary Road, it’s also hard to believe it’s all just a coincidence, he said. 

Why fuel began being pumped out of a sump pump at a residence in the area on February 9, however, remains unclear to this day, Rice said. Pressure testing of the sump pump carried out on multiple occasions and an internal investigation by KEPO has since ruled out surrounding homeowners as being responsible, he said.  

The drilling of holes up to 12 feet deep in the area around the home by an external contractor has also yet to reveal any underground streams are responsible for transporting the fuel from Chateauguay into Kahnawake.  

“We’ve been doing our investigation, and we haven’t been able to find out how it travelled over land,” Rice said. “We can’t find the connection from the Suzanne River to Zachary Road.” 

In coming weeks, a ground penetrating radar will be used in the hope of revealing the path the fuel took before it culminated in a ditch near a home on the road, Phillips said.  

“That river and creek, the ones that were impacted by the diesel, were our healthiest running through the community,” Rice added. “We’ll for sure be seeing some effects – we don’t know yet what the scale of those effects will be. We’ll be monitoring those in the years to come.” 

As for the cleanup that’s happened to date at 2325 Ford Boulevard, Phillips said there’s still more work to be done. Independent sampling carried out by workers with KEPO revealed there’s still soil there that came back high for the presence of hydrocarbons, he said, an issue he’s actively raising with officials from Quebec’s environmental ministry.  

“We still think there’s some additional work that needs to take place in Chateauguay,” Phillips said. “We want to make sure nothing else is coming in from Chateauguay into Kahnawake.” 


This article was originally published in print on April 5 in issue 33.14 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.