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New data from environmental researchers at Trent University verifies extremely high concentrations of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) pollution in the Owen Sound Harbour. Toxin levels in the sediment are similar to the infamous Hamilton Harbour.

Since 2008, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) has been involved in discussions with Transport Canada regarding the proposed divestiture of Owen Sound Harbour. Transport Canada, which owns the harbour, has been trying to sell (or divest) it since 2000. SON reached an agreement related to the divestiture with the City of Owen Sound in 2008, but Transport Canada rejected the proposal. Since then, divestiture has been attempted twice, once in 2010 and again in 2016.

Dillon Consulting was hired by Transport Canada in 2010 to perform an environmental assessment on the harbour, looking at the amount of and environmental risks presented by the pollution. The report concluded that there is significant contamination within the harbour, including high concentrations of toxins such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), mercury and lead.

PAHs are chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil and diesel fuel. They are also produced when coal, oil, diesel fuel, wood, garbage and tobacco are burned. Many PAHs are carcinogenic and linger in sediment for long periods of time.

Starting in 2015, Trent University followed up the Dillon report with an investigation in partnership with SON. Very high levels of PAHs in the sediment were confirmed with no sign of lessening concentrations up to 25 cm - the depth sediment cores were taken from. Levels were found to be similar to other Areas of Concern in the Great Lakes, such as Randle Reef and parts of the St. Mary's River. As well, PAH concentrations in the harbour's water exceeded Ontario Water Quality Guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. Researchers are still unsure of the pollution's impact on local fish populations.

"We found concentrations of PAHs that are as high as some of the most polluted sites in the Hamilton Harbour," said Trent University researcher Mary-Claire Buell in a statement to SON, "Our research is ongoing, however, based on what we have already learned, we feel it is important the public know what is in the Owen Sound Harbour."

Impacts to human and environmental health remain unknown. In other Great Lakes areas with similar PAH pollution, ongoing efforts are made to communicate the risk to the public, in concert with monitoring programs to ensure the pollution isn't accumulating in fish. As well, remediation to improve lake health and reduce human exposure is often encouraged. None of these mitigation strategies are presently taking place in the Owen Sound Harbour.

"What's frustrating is that Transport Canada has resisted all attempts for a meaningful process to address the serious potential impacts to our rights and the health of the water," said Doran Ritchie, Land Use Planning Coordinator for the SON Environment Office, "Our concern is not just for our two communities: this is an issue that affects both human health and the health of the water. Everyone should be aware of the current situation and be very concerned for the future of the Owen Sound Harbour."

source: media release, Saugeen Ojibway Nation Environment Office

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