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Experts probe Elmira chemical manufacturing site for groundwater contamination

January 2, 2021   by Leah Gerber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record

ELMIRA _ More than 30 years after the cancer-causing chemical NDMA was detected in incredibly high levels in Elmira’s aquifer, experts are still trying to pinpoint sources of contamination. Lately, a portion of property belonging to Lanxess, a chemical manufacturer on the east side of Elmira, has been under scrutiny.

The part of the aquifer under the east side of the Lanxess property is testing positive for NDMA, or nitrosodimethylamine, a chemical known to cause cancer, liver and lung damage, and death in test animals. Both the Ministry of Environment and a local group of experts that provides public input into the Elmira cleanup want to establish where this contamination is coming from.

Residual chemicals from old waste sites

Lanxess is a German company that has manufactured synthetic rubber lubricants, as well as additives for lubricants, plastics and rubber, from its Elmira plant since 2017 when Lanxess bought the Chemtura Chemical Company. Previous chemical companies operating at the Lanxess site stored toxic waste in pits and lagoons in the eastern part of the property.

In May, Lanxess produced a report saying that residual chemicals from these old waste sites are not significantly migrating off the property or causing significant damage to groundwater. Now the Ministry of Environment along with local experts want Lanxess to provide more information to back up that claim. The Technical Advisory Group is a collection of local experts that provides advice to the Remediation Advisory Committee, a group designated by Woolwich Township to provide public input into the Elmira cleanup.

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Numerous on-site and off-site soil and groundwater sampling

Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach, a longtime member of the Technical Advisory Group, strongly believes chemicals once stored in these old disposal sites may have made their way to the lower-gradient southeastern portion of the property where they could now continue to be affecting groundwater, nearby streams and neighbouring properties. Ministry staff and the Technical Advisory Group both asked Lanxess to provide a revised report that pulls all the information related to the east-side study area together in one document. Lanxess personnel say the company has done its due diligence.

“Over the past several decades, there have been numerous on-site and off-site soil and groundwater sampling in this area,” said Michael Mackin, corporate communications manager for Lanxess, in an email. “There is nothing to indicate any impacts or concerns from an off-site release to soil and groundwater based on laboratory analysis. “Next year, we plan to perform a risk assessment to determine what – if any – impacts of significance there are or have been to the creek,” Mackin said-

Chemicals have been manufactured on the Lanxess site for decades. NDMA is a byproduct that forms when chemical wastes are mixed. In 1989 it was detected at levels up to 4,400 times higher than today’s drinking water standard in the aquifer that supplied Elmira’s drinking water. Elmira now has its water piped in from Waterloo’s water supply system.

 


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