Five Island Lake

Five Island Lake
Community Liaison Committee

Newsletter #10, April 2001

Dear Fellow Residents ….

Dredging of the PCB contaminated sediments in North Bay of Five Island Lake began in 1999, and now the end of this phase of the remediation is definitely in sight. $1.3 million has been committed to complete sediment removal this summer. This will be an important milestone in the work of the Community Liaison Committee, and will enable residents to use North Bay once again for swimming and boating.

The Liaison Committee will continue to press for the removal of all the remaining containers of contaminated soil, currently stored on the site of the former salvage yard, and to provide community input into the ongoing management and monitoring of the PCBs that have been capped in place on the site.

This spring, an article appeared in a local newspaper questioning whether prospective homebuyers should have any concerns about purchasing a home on or near Five Island Lake. Our very first newsletter, back in 1996, addressed this issue, and obviously, it's time for an update (see pages 2 and 3).

According to the Department of Health, the bottom line is:

(1) You can safely swim or boat anywhere in Five Island Lake, except for North Bay which will be opened up again as soon as the clean-up work is complete this summer.

(2) Central water has been provided to a few homes very close to the site of the former salvage yard, but the Department of Health does not consider wells elsewhere in the community to be at risk of contamination by PCBs.

(3) As a precaution, you should still not eat fish caught in Five Island Lake and nine other local lakes.

If you have questions, return the feedback form, e-mail us at or call any of the community representatives on the Liaison Committee. We will try to help you get the information you need. Previous issues of the Liaison Committee's newsletter can now be found at

North Bay Clean-up to Finish This Summer

Now that the ice is out of the lake, Dexter Construction will resume work in North Bay. The remaining dredging will not take long to complete. The contractors will then draw down the water levels again and finish the removal of sediments from the rocky shoal areas.

The final steps will be to restore the channel between North Bay and the rest of the lake, and redirect Western Brook back into North Bay. The Department of Transportation and Public Works estimates that this will all be in place by late August or early September.

Meanwhile, back at the Salvage Yard Site…

The Department of Transportation and Public Works was able to empty another five of the containers stored on the old salvage yard site this February. Another two containers could only be partly emptied because of freezing conditions. The PCB contaminated soils were sent to an approved destruction facility in Quebec. In 1997 there were 52 containers stored on the site. Twenty of these have now been emptied.

PCBs in Five Island Lake: An Update from the Department of Health

Faithful readers of this newsletter know that the North Bay clean-up is removing much (an estimated 70 percent) but certainly not all of the PCBs that moved off the salvage yard site into the lake system. You also know that PCBs can be found in the sediments downstream from North Bay. What are the short and long term implications of these residual PCBs? Should residents or prospective homebuyers be worried, and if so, what about?

The Department of Health published a Health Advisory in 1994 with respect to swimming, boating and eating fish caught in the Five Island Lake watershed. The Liaison Committee has decided it is time to get an update from the Department of Health. We (CLC) posed the following questions to Dr Robert Strang, Public Health Services, Central Regional Health Board (Health).

CLC: What does the current Health Advisory say?

Health: We advise people not to swim or boat in North Bay to avoid stirring up contaminated sediments that could then move out into the rest of the lake. We also advise that people do not eat fish caught in Five Island Lake or in nine connected lakes. This is a precautionary measure. Based on PCB concentrations found in fish sampled in 1994, someone would probably have to eat locally caught fish several times a week, year round, to be at any risk.

CLC: Can people swim and boat elsewhere in Five Island Lake, other than North Bay?

Health: Yes. This is safe because PCBs don't dissolve in water, but instead remain attached to particles. Even if some of the sediments were stirred up, swimmers would not ingest a significant amount of PCBs.

CLC: Do you have any plans to revisit the Health Advisory?

Health: Yes. When the clean-up of North Bay is complete at the end of the summer, we will change the Health Advisory to allow swimming and boating to take place in North Bay.

CLC: Do you anticipate any changes with respect to eating fish?

Health: New fish sampling will take place this summer and we will consider the results. Because there are still residual PCBs in sediments and it will take some time for the PCBs already in the food chain to work their way through, we do not expect to see immediate improvements. This will take a much longer time. Fish that feed near the bottom of the lake are likely to have a greater intake of PCBs than fish, such as trout, that feed at the surface. However, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has instituted a new catch and release program for trout in the Five Island Lake watershed (see box, page 3) to build up the stocks and the size of the fish. This means people won't be eating locally caught trout for a number of years anyway.

CLC: Should people be concerned about their wells?

Health: The main risk for a well in any location is usually bacterial contamination, and we encourage all homeowners to get their well water tested at regular intervals. PCBs do not dissolve in water. Instead, they remain attached to particles that tend to be filtered out when water passes through soil. For this reason, PCBs do not move very far in groundwater.

PCBs were not detected in wells below the salvage yard site in the initial testing undertaken by the NS Department of Environment in the early 1990's. However, other contaminants were encountered in these wells at very low concentrations (below limits set by drinking water quality guidelines). As a precautionary measure, the homes in the immediate area of the former salvage yard were placed on a central system.

The government has continued to monitor groundwater quality around the site. While PCBs and other chemicals are present in very low concentrations in these monitoring wells close to the site, there are no indications that significant amounts of PCBs are migrating away from the site.

Public Meeting: Hubley Wildlands Conservation Area

On May 8th at 7:00 pm, the Woodens River Watershed Environmental Organization, a community based volunteer organization created in 1995, will host a public information session regarding the establishment of a "Hubley Wildlands Trust" under the Wilderness Protection Act. The trust is proposed to preserve for future generations some 7,500 acres of crown land wilderness adjacent to Frederick Lake, Five Island Lake, and Hubley Big Lake. The meeting, chaired by MLA Bill Estabrooks, will be held at the Bay Road Volunteer Fire Department hall near Lewis Lake. Preservation of the public wilderness around our lakes is a key issue for those who want to enhance and protect water quality in the Woodens River Watershed. WRWEO encourages all those interested to attend and express their views.

For more information visit WRWEO's website at