Sudbury Soils Study Continues to be Criticized – by Bill Bradley

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

The Sudbury Soils Study is continuing to raise criticisms in the community. The date for public comment ended Saturday, Nov. 1. A number of community food activists and local farmers were told Thursday by Mississauga toxicologist Glenn Ferguson that local vegetables and fruit grown in backyards or from commercial operations are safe. Ferguson is a scientist who worked for the SARA Group managing the Human Health Risk Assessment work for the Sudbury Soils Study. He said the critics may have found high levels of metals in some soil samples in the SARA data but what really matters is what turns up in the food itself.

“It’s like apples and oranges. You cannot compare values in soil with values in the produce itself. People eat the produce, not the soil,” said Ferguson. “We still cannot contact the physician who wrote the critique for the citizens so at this point we do not know what values he is referring to.”

Ferguson has a Ph.D. in health sciences at the University of Waterloo specializing in the validation of toxicology risk assessment models and techniques. He has more than 14 years experience in the field of toxicology, human health and ecological risk assessment. He is considered a Qualified Person for Risk Assessment (QPRA) as defined by the Ontario Protection Act of Ontario legislation.

Sudbury and District Medical Officer of Health, Penny Sutcliffe said Thursday her local health unit stood by the results of the SARA group. She said she had no qualms about eating local vegetables from area producers. But there is still concern being expressed by residents.

John Peters, a political science professor at Laurentian University, said a group of concerned citizens are pressing the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Labour, and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to step in and continue the effort. “We want to see if there can be a better analysis of the cumulative impacts of metal pollution and long-term exposure,” he said.

The group is called the Community Committee on the Sudbury Soils Study and has union and environmental group participation.

Rick Grylls, president of Mine Mill Local 598/CAW, said there needs to be more work on where there are hot spots of contamination. “These hot spots have to be identified, fully investigated and given to the people so they know how safe it is to grow vegetables there,” said Grylls. Right now people can contact the health unit, but it is only on an ad hoc basis, he said.

Grylls noted that, while some workers have been tested at various parts of Xstrata’s operation for some chemicals of concern, such as cadmium, silica and arsenic, the effort is not comprehensive. It would not factor in contamination outside the workplace, he said.

“You can be tested for arsenic at the (Xstrata) smelter if you ask for it,” he said. But SARA Group officials say the study excluded workers from the report because that was the original terms of reference they were given by the technical committee of the Sudbury Soils Study. If they had been considered a part of the study, then the Ontario Ministry of Labour would have been a key player in the study and a member of the technical committee itself. Community health and safety advocates like Homer Seguin have long protested the lack of comprehensive testing of workers, past and present.

Grylls said arsenic levels tested for residents of Falconbridge were high and there should be an investigation of why that is the case. Grylls recommended people looking for more information visit the Northwatch environmental website for the citizen committee report at www.

Recommendations from the Community Committee on the Sudbury Soils Study

“We recommend the Ontario Ministries of Environment, Health and of Labour step up and assume their responsibility for the health of Sudburians, by facilitating a community process toensure that the Sudbury public decides what level of risk it can accept, what will be done to clean up affected properties, and what will be done to treat those whose health is at risk.”

Other recommendations include:

  • better community involvement in the upcoming Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) without the involvement of Vale or Xstrata representatives in the review stage.
  • simultaneous translation in French and English of the ERA.
  • further studies that evaluate past and current exposures, that address health risks to adults as well as children, and address possible synergistic effects of exposure to a number of chemicals at the same time.
  • testing of lead in children considering lead is above safe levels.
  • human hair and blood/urine sampling made available free of charge for any current or past resident of the three communities of concern (Falconbridge, Copper Cliff and Coniston).
  • Ministry of Environment to develop a plan with the Sudbury public to ensure the clean-up and/or containment of all contaminated areas on an urgent basis.