Five Island Lake

Five Island Lake
Community Liaison Committee

Newsletter #7, June 1999

Good News! Lake Clean-up To Start
We're happy to tell you that the Province has agreed to fund the first phase of the lake clean-up. On June 1, Clifford Huskilson, then-Minister of Transportation and Public Works, announced the inclusion of $2 million in his department's budget for 1999-2000 to be spent on the first phase that includes removing contaminated sediments from the North Bay of Five Island Lake. The Department's consultants estimate that this will cover the costs of cleaning up the Western Brook delta area and dredging part of North Bay this summer, starting with the most highly contaminated areas. The dredging will be completed during the second phase of the lake clean-up by the fall of 2000.

The work this year will also probably include the construction of a new secure interim containment cell on land behind the former salvage yard site. Contractors will be invited to submit bids to carry out thermal destruction of the PCBs as an alternative to temporary on-land storage. However, if the cost is too high for this year's budget, the dewatered sediments will have to be temporarily stored.

Future of the Lake
We know the lake cannot be restored to a totally pristine state. The goal of the clean-up is to remove most of the sediments in North Bay that contain levels of PCBs higher than 1 parts per million (ppm). There are concentrations of PCBs that exceed 1 ppm in the rest of the lake but there is no practical way to retrieve these. Nevertheless, focussing on North Bay, which probably contains about 75 percent of all the PCBs, will greatly reduce the environmental risks caused by the movement of PCBs up through the food chain. It should also be possible to lift the swimming and boating restrictions in North Bay. However, it is likely that the health advisories recommending only catch-and-release fishing will continue to apply for a very long time.

Cooperative Efforts
In his announcement Mr Huskilson said "I applaud the work and commitment of the community in this clean-up effort; we hope the cooperative efforts of Five Island Lake residents and government continue." The Community Liaison Committee is both pleased and relieved that the contaminated sediments will now be removed from North Bay. We recognize that a lot of work remains, including ongoing monitoring and investigations, but both the community and the government can now feel that they have much better control over the PCB situation in this area.

  • Open House and Community Meeting
    Thursday, June 24, 1999
    Tantallon Elementary School
    Open House starts 6:00 pm
    Community Meeting 7:30 pm
    Displays/Meet the Committee/Refreshments

In this newsletter we explain what is going to happen this summer, and how it fits into the 13-point clean-up strategy approved by the community in 1996.

The Fire Next Door
What Were the Risks?
On Sunday, May 23 local fire fighters responded to a fire on the property next to the site where PCB contaminated soil is currently being stored in 37 steel containers. The fire spread to brush and trees before being brought under control. Some residents have expressed understandable concerns about the implications of this event. If PCBs burn at lower temperatures in an uncontrolled situation, they will emit harmful organic compounds into the air.

However, the steel containers at the Five Island Lake site contain mainly soil and water (99.98 percent) and only very small amounts of PCBs (0.02 percent). PCBs themselves are in fact relatively inflammable. In other incidents such as the fire at St Basile-Le-Grande, the PCBs only burned because there were large quantities of other highly flammable materials close by.

An emergency response plan for the site has been in place since 1994, and the Bay Road Fire Department knows exactly what is stored there and how to handle any incidents. Following the fire on May 23, the Department of Transportation and Public Works will also be briefing neighbouring fire departments.

Lake Clean-up Still Priority
If the continued storage of the contaminated soil in the steel containers had posed any kind of fire threat, the Liaison Committee would have had very different priorities for the clean-up strategy. As it is, the Liaison Committee still firmly believes that top priority must be given to getting the PCBs out of North Bay where they are currently free to disperse further into the environment. If you have any concerns or questions about the fire, please contact Christopher Moir at the NS Department of Transportation and Public Works, 424-4725 (or e-mail at

Lake Clean-up
The Next Two Years
Since the Liaison Committee submitted the community's clean-up strategy to the Province in December, 1996, the Department of Transportation and Public Works has provided half a million dollars each year to implement the strategy in stages. These have included the following necessary steps:

  • detailed environmental surveys of North Bay
  • testing thermal desorption treatment on samples of North Bay sediments
  • constructing a boat launch for use by people whose deeded access to Five Island Lake had been cut off
  • constructing a weir between North Bay and the rest of the lake so that North Bay can be isolated during clean-up if necessary
  • pilot testing to make sure that current dredging and de-watering methods can handle North Bay sediments
  • purchasing land to provide space for interim storage or treatment of the sediments.

All the pieces have been put in place to permit sediment removal to proceed - the most important step - and Mr Huskilson's most recent funding announcement has given us a start date. This will be the sequence of events:

  1. Start to construct interim containment cell. This double-lined storage cell will hold the soil from the delta area and the de-watered sediments.
  2. Remove the contaminated soil overlying the delta area at the outlet of Western Brook, leaving a layer of boulders, which will then be covered with clean material and revegetated.
  3. Remove the contaminated sediments from Dredge Zone 1. This is the most highly contaminated area of North Bay (see map and inset). A silt curtain will divide Dredge Zone 1 from the rest of North Bay and will be left in place over the winter to prevent the movement of any contaminated sediments from the rest of North Bay into the cleaned area. This is considered to be most unlikely, see Questions and Answers below.
  4. De-water the sediments and place them in the new containment cell.
  5. Next summer (2000) remove the contaminated sediments from Dredge Zone 2.
  6. Empty more of the 37 remaining steel storage containers, send contents away for destruction, nd remove containers from the site. This is part of an ongoing plan to remove all of the containers.

Some Questions and Answers
Here are some of the questions you may want to have answered. If you have others, please return the feedback form, call your Community Liaison Committee member, or come to the open house and meeting on June 24 at Tantallon Elementary School.

Why do the dredging over two years? Is there a risk that sediments from the "dirty" side could wash over to re-contaminate the "clean" side?
The provincial government has indicated that the clean-up must be phased into financially manageable "bites". The Department of Transportation and Public Works has obtained advice from a lake sedimentology expert at Acadia University and the risk of re-contamination appears to be low. As a precautionary measure, a silt curtain will be used to separate the two areas until the clean-up is complete. Under normal circumstances there is minimal movement of sediments in North Bay. Under extreme conditions, such as a hurricane, waves could disturb the bottom but the prevailing storm winds would most likely move sediments from Dredge Zone 1 (the clean side) to Dredge Zone 2 (the dirty side), rather than the other way around.

How much truck traffic will this project generate?
This will depend on how the selected contractor proposes to carry out the work. However, assuming that the contractor chooses to de-water the sediments close to the worksite and then truck them up to the containment cell, there might be 2-4 trucks crossing the road just below the former salvage yard site every hour. Full crossing controls will be in place.

What happens to Western Brook?
Western Brook will be diverted to discharge into the lake on the other side of the railway tracks until the dredging in North Bay has been completed. This will make it possible for the contractors to clean up the delta area and will also further reduce the movement of sediments within North Bay. When the clean-up of North Bay has finished, the brook will be restored to its natural channel which will be stabilized to a certain extent to avoid erosion in the cleaned-up delta area.

How is the containment cell constructed?
The containment cell will have two liners: a layer of clay and a synthetic liner embedded in sand. After the sediments have been placed in the cell, they will be capped to keep precipitation out. A leachate collection system will be installed, although very little leachate is expected after the first few months. Monitoring wells will be installed around the perimeter. The groundwater in the wells will be analysed before any material is placed in the containment cell to provide baseline data, and will then be monitored on a regular basis.

What will happen to the water that is extracted from the sediments during de-watering?
It will be treated as necessary to meet all freshwater discharge standards before being released back into the lake. Depending on the de-watering process used, this could involve passing it through a filtration treatment.

How much PCBs will the dredged sediments contain?
According to the pilot dredge test results, after they have been de-watered the sediments removed from North Bay are likely to contain less than 50 ppm PCBs. It's worth noting that soil containing less than 50 ppm PCBs is considered acceptable on commercial or industrial land (Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment clean-up guidelines). However the same material in a lake presents unacceptable environmental risks because the PCBs can more readily enter the aquatic food chain.

Why are the contaminated sediments likely to be stored on land instead of being sent directly for destruction?
In a word, cost. In the Liaison Committee's October, 1996, newsletter we indicated that sending the PCBs out of province for thermal destruction might cost between $8 and $13 million (with the caution that these estimates were very tentative). The provincial government has indicated that they cannot fund this large a project in one fiscal year. The Committee believes that the most urgent step is to get the contaminated sediments out of the lake to prevent more PCBs from escaping into the environment. This means that the contaminated sediments must go into secure interim storage on land.

However, contractors bidding on the dredging job may opt to give a price for destroying the PCBs immediately rather than storing them for later destruction. If the cost is affordable and the proposed methods meet all regulations and are acceptable to the community, the Liaison Committee definitely believes that destruction should be the preferred option.

What happens next?
The Committee will still be pressing for the job to be completed, in stages over the next few years. As technologies to concentrate and destroy PCBs evolve, the price tag may well come down. Meanwhile the PCBs will be safely contained. (It's worth noting that the government will also have an incentive to finish the job because the maintenance and monitoring of the containment cell is estimated to cost over $50,000 every year).

Goodbye to Fifteen Containers
Part of the Community Liaison Committee's 13-point strategy, as approved at the last community meeting, is ultimately to get rid of all of the steel containers on the former salvage yard site. These contain soils contaminated with more than 50 ppm PCBs. The containers need to go because, even with good maintenance and monitoring, they won't last forever.

This year Transportation and Public Works was able to empty 15 of these containers and send the contaminated soil to Quebec where the PCBs were first concentrated using a thermal desorption process, and then incinerated. The containers were removed from the site, cleaned, and put to other uses. It is unlikely that there will be money in this year's budget to remove more containers, but the process will continue.

Time for a little history
For residents new to the area, or others wanting a re-cap, here's the story so far . . .

The NS Department of Environment carried out a province-wide study of scrapyards.

The Associated Metals and Electronics Salvage yard at Five Island Lake was identified as a problem, and placed under a Ministerial order.

The NS Department of Environment requested proposals for remediation and capped the top of the site with clay and gravel to prevent further contaminated run-off.

The NS Department of Transportation and Public Works took over site management and started to clean-up adjacent properties and Western Brook.

The Department tested lake sediments and fish and found that the North Bay of Five Island Lake was badly contaminated.
The Department of Health issued health advisory warnings: don't swim or boat in North Bay, don't eat fish caught in Five Island Lake or 19 other lakes (subsequently reduced to 10 lakes). Very concerned residents held a community meeting in the Fire Hall. The Province invited residents to form a community liaison committee.

Five Island Lake Community Liaison Committee, made up of representatives from homeowner and ratepayer organizations, met regularly to review all options and develop a strategy to put before the community. Four newsletters were distributed to each household and business. In November, 1996, at another community meeting, residents endorsed the 13-point strategy which was sent to the provincial government.

Transportation and Public Works started to implement the strategy (see above for details of first steps). The Liaison Committee continued to guide and monitor this work and circulated two more newsletters to keep residents informed. In December 1998, the Liaison Committee wrote to the Premier, reminding him of all the work the community had done, and asking for a commitment to provide funding for the lake clean-up. The Committee also wrote to the leaders of the Conservative and New Democratic parties.

The Minister of Transportation and Public Works announces funding to begin actual lake clean-up.

The Department of Health is still advising that any fish caught in the following lakes be released because they may contain PCB levels exceeding federal guidelines for safe consumption: Sheldrake Lake, Birch Hill Lake, Holland Marsh Lake, Lizard Lake, Frederick Lake, Five Island Lake, Five Island Lake Run, East Duck Pond, Hubley Big Lake and Long Lake.

Research suggests that a person would have to eat a steady diet of contaminated fish year-round to be at risk, but the Department is recommending a precautionary approach.

The Department of Environment intends to re-sample fish from these lakes this year and to ask the Department of Health to re-evaluate this health advisory, but it is likely that low levels of PCBs will be present in fish tissues for many years to come.

Swimming and Boating
The Department of Environment restricts swimming and boating in North Bay only, in order to avoid stirring up the contaminated sediments. Residents can swim and boat safely and legally in the rest of Five Island Lake and elsewhere.

A Message From
The Woodens River Watershed Environmental Organization
The Woodens River Watershed Environmental Organization (WRWEO) is a community-based volunteer organization committed to protecting and improving the Woodens River Watershed. Five Island Lake is one of nineteen connected lakes, including Upper and Lower Sheldrake Lakes, Frederick Lake, Hubley Big Lake, and Albert Bridge Lake, which flow southwest into the Woodens River and finally into St. Margaret's Bay at Woodens Cove in Seabright.

We fully support the work of the Community Liaison Committee toward remediation of the PCB contamination in Five Island Lake and applaud the progress made to date. The PCB problem is, however, only one of many important issues that concern the quality of the local environment. The phosphorus loading of the lakes due to increased development, the impact of local forestry practices, and the preservation of crown land for public recreation are other vital issues that we need to address together.

WRWEO is working hard to preserve the natural environment within our watershed. Plans for this year include trail development and wreck clearing, work to improve fish habitat, pheasant release program, and water quality monitoring to improve our database.

Based on community concerns, we have prepared a dynamic Management Plan to reflect the needs and aspirations of the residents, landowners, and other users of the watershed. This plan, to be continually up-dated in response to community feedback, is designed to enable citizens who care about the watershed to have a say in government planning for the area. Community members are always welcome at our monthly meetings.

If you wish to have a copy of the abbreviated plan or more information about WRWE, please contact Richmond Campbell (Chair) at 876-7847 or Frank Hope (Secretary) at 876-8893, or visit our website at: Representatives of WRWEO will be at the Liaison Committee's Open House and Community Meeting on June 24.

Community Representatives on the Five Island Lake Community Liaison Committee

Richmond Campbell, Cambrians Cove 876-7847

Andre Faubert, Lake of the Woods 876-8390

Wenda Greer, Cambrians Cove 876-0813

John Hoyt, Three Brooks 876-2722

Ken Jakeman, Lake of the Woods 876-2510

John Jardine, Five Island Lake 876-2724

Danny LeBlanc, Sheldrake Lake 876-8179

Joyce Milley, Hubley Lake Road 876-5000

Wayne Nicholson, Five Island Lake 876-2294

Murray Power, Sheldrake Lake 876-8236

Shawn Redmond, Glen Margaret 823-3068