Some recent lab results are raising more alarm bells for an Alberta environmental group.
The Keepers of the Athabasca, as well as their partners from a pair of First Nations, have learned of the results of lake sediment core samples in Lesser Slave Lake taken earlier this year.
Jule Asterisk, the project manager for the Keepers of the Athabasca, said lab results prove that some dioxins have been seeping into the lake for several decades.
This, in part, explains why some pollutants have been found in the treated drinking water in the community of Faust, Asterisk said.
Some believe these pollutants could be responsible for the poor health of many in the community over the past few decades.
And Asterisk believes they continue to pose a problem since lab results show the level of contaminants exceed the sediment guidelines to protect various aquatic species in the lake.
“We weren’t shocked with the results,” Asterisk said. “But it was surprising there were so many contaminants found in the samples.”
There are five First Nations that surround Lesser Slave Lake. They are Driftpile Cree Nation, Kapawe'no First Nation, Sawridge First Nation, Sucker Creek First Nation and Swan River First Nation.
Asterisk said officials from two of these First Nations prefer to remain anonymous but they assisted representatives from the Keepers of the Athabasca in obtaining lake samples.
Sediment core samples were taken in March 2018 and in February of this year in Lesser Slave Lake at the mouth of the Swan River and in Faust Bay.
The goal was to find evidence of lake contamination from the Swan Hills Hazardous Waste Treatment Centre, as well as the Faust Osmose Site.
Sample tubes were dropped into the lake. The various levels of sediment that were recovered in tubes were stratified allowing officials to determine the number of years the dioxins had been in the lake.
Lab samples found evidence of the Faust Osmose site, a wood treatment plant which blew up in 1969. Several products known to cause cancer were used to treat the wood.
Samples indicate Chlorinated Dibenzo-p Dioxins (CDDs) have been seeping into Lesser Slave Lake for decades, potentially jeopardizing fish in the lake and those who eat them, said Asterisk.
Also, the Swan Hills site experienced an explosion and fire which forced its closure for 10 months back in 2009-10. This facility specializes in the burning of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) waste from across the country.
Asterisk said there are hints of the 2009 explosion in the most recent lake sediment core samples her group undertook.
But in order to get a more accurate picture of what has transpired, Asterisk said it will be necessary to take additional samples from the deepest parts in both the east and west basins of Lesser Slave Lake, which could be a costly exercise.
“This is not easy for a small environmental group,” she said. “We’re looking at the possibility of having a fundraiser.”
Next steps will be discussed at the next Keepers of the Athabasca board meeting scheduled for Nov. 4.
Mike Wolff, who has lived in Faust off and on for the past 35 years, was planning to start an organic farm in the community five years ago.
But those plans have been in limbo ever since as he was concerned about water from the local treatment plant.
“I didn’t want to invest a lot of money into it if there are issues with the drinking water,” he said.
Local, provincial and federal authorities have always maintained there are no concerns with the levels of pollutants in Lesser Slave Lake.
“We have scientific proof now that this is going on,” Wolff said. “All we get from the government is denial, denial, denial.”
Wolff is also seriously concerned about the health of not only his family members but of many of those in his community. He believes the lake pollutants have been responsible for numerous ailments.
“We have maybe 1,000 people here and we have had countless people die of brain cancer and all types of cancers,” he said. “And many of them were young.”
Wolff said both of his parents had cancer.
“And there were health concerns regarding my kids too,” he said. “Both of my boys were having some vision issues. The sources were never found. The doctors said it must be migraines but they never really found a reason.”
Wolff is hoping local authorities take the recent lab samples seriously.
“I’m hoping we can show now there are dioxins in the treated drinking water and that we can get an upgrade to the water plant,” he said. “The water plant has been there since the ‘70s and it has very basic water treatment. They are adding chlorine to the water but not removing all the pollutants.”
Local politicians did not return Windspeaker.com’s messages prior to press time to comment on the recent findings of the lab sample tests.
By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, CFWE