Seven lives 70 Questions (Digging Through the Sudbury Soil Study) – Janet Gibson

Northern Life, Greater Sudbury’s community newspaper, gave Republic of permission to post Janet Gibson’s article.

Citizens Speak Out About Soil Study

(second instalment of a four-part series) Sudbury Soils Study


In 1986, Copper Cliff resident Silvana Oppedisano hung the laundry out to dry in the backyard of the family home on Serpentine Street. That afternoon, her husband Pat found a hole in one of the bedsheets.
“Ever since that day, there’s been no more clothesline outside,” Pat said. The hole, he said, was caused by fallout from the chimney at the Inco smelter. “That’s the way it is,” he said. “The wind shifts every which way.”

Pat, an affable barber, said people aren’t talking about the Sudbury Soils Study released two weeks ago. But he’s interested in reading it if he can find out where it is. “We know the soil’s contaminated,” he said. “Are we happy? No. The question is, ‘What can we do about it?’ Because you can’t live in a place like this without it being contaminated.”

The $10 million study, paid for by mining giants Vale Inco and Xstrata, said there were “no unacceptable health risks predicted for exposure to four of the six chemicals of concern studied: arsenic, copper, cobalt and selenim. The risk calculated for typical exposure to lead throughout the Greater Sudbury area is within acceptable benchmarks for protection of human health.

However, lead levels in some soil samples indicated a potential risk for young children in Copper Cliff, Coniston, Falconbridge and Sudbury Centre.” Pat said things have changed in Copper Cliff since 1961, when he first moved there. Some days in the 60s, he said, “you couldn’t see across the street.” The study said that in 1972, “three major factors led to a dramatic improvement in the air quality in the region: the construction of Inco’s 381-metre superstack, the closure of the Coniston smelter and the closure of Falconbridge’s iron ore sintering plant. Ground level concentrations of sulphur dioxide immediately dropped by 50 per cent and Sudbury began to register lower pollution rates than Hamilton or Toronto.”

Kim Johnson moved to Copper Cliff in July 2007. She’s raising her three-year-old granddaughter in a tiny house down the road from the Inco smelter. She, too, wants to read the study but doesn’t know where to get a hard copy. “I thought it was unusual they found high levels that are harmful to the young but in the same breath said residents have nothing to be concerned about,” she said. “I find that ridiculous, really.”
The study analyzed soil from 439 houses in the four communities including 74 in Copper Cliff.

Johnson wondered if she could get her soil tested. “Clearly, there is a risk in this locale.” “What about families that can’t afford a soil test?” she asked. “How will you ever know if it’s detrimental for your family?”

Duane and Lisa Bradley shared her concern. “I’m just worried about the children playing in the sand,” said Duane, who grew up in Copper Cliff. “Is it harmful to the children? “I always take my daughter Briana to the park. She makes sandcastles. If she has a cut and gets sand in the cut, will that be a concern?”

Besides the soil from private properties, the study analysed soil from every school, park and daycare centre in the area. Falconbridge resident Wendy Paquette said the park on Parkinson Street had the “highest amount of arsenic in the north.” She said she didn’t know if anything had been done about it.

Soil testers found a “hot spot” in the park, said Jim Brierley, a retired Falconbridge engineer who chaired a committee that informed townspeople of study findings. “It may have been fill that was added to the park.”

Brierley’s three sons played in the park for 11 years. He said arsenic levels in Falconbridge were found to be higher than in Copper Cliff and Coniston but not harmful to humans. But his neighbour Darren Michaud wanted more information. “What are the side effects of arsenic?” asked Michaud, who has an 11-year-old daughter. “Is it in the soil or does it float around in the air when the ground is biked on or run on?” “I’ve been waiting for the facts,” he said.

“It just seems really sketchy. The levels were high and now they’re not as high as I thought. Are they grossly high, really high or too high? “There was that little bit of comfort. Not as high as they thought. Where does that leave us?”