KEPT SECRET: REPORT REVEALS BIG ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES ON SITE OF NEW VIRGINIA PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

A significant environmental problem is still present,
underground, at the site of the new Virginia Park Elementary School. The issue
needs to be exposed to the public, and better understood by everyone, before
construction continues; that is if the new school should be built on this site at all. 



This Post is intended to “kick-start” that overdue conversation and release the, until now, secret Report.

Here are the salient facts:

The provincial government has been in possession, since April 2015, of a
document entitled “DRAFT FINAL REPORT ON
SUPERVISION OF CONTAMINATED SOIL REMOVAL DURING SITE PREPARATION WORK”
, New
Virginia Park Elementary School Site, St. John’s, NL.

As the title suggests, contaminated material has
already been removed from the area where the structure is located. But the
Report confirms that heavy metals and other dangerous metals are still
present in the soil, at least along the north and northeast boundary of the site. The area
of contamination remains undefined. The contaminants have the potential to
threaten human health.


The Report, prepared by Pinchin LeBlanc, an
Environmental Consultancy, (note: it is a large file 52,405KB. It contains a 3 page Executive Summary at the start.) The entire Report can be accessed here. It was obtained by the Uncle Gnarley Blog from a
confidential source.

Cover – Pinchin LeBlanc Report

The Report, as stated, is dated April 2015. That is approximately
nine months ago. More than adequate time has elapsed for the public to have
been informed, and for additional studies to have been conducted.


Accordingly, one might be excused for assuming the government
never intended that the public might be permitted to parse its contents.

The Tender for Phase II of the new school closes on
Tuesday, January 12, 2016. This is further evidence the document was never destined for the public domain.    



I suggest no Tender should be awarded until all the facts surrounding the contamination issues have been fully assessed.
                               
If the Premier is serious about
his desire to ‘Restore Openness, Transparency, and Accountability” to the
 
Government, he will instruct the Ministers of Transportation and Works (TW) and
Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD), and the Minister of Environment and Conservation, to begin the consultation
process right away.

While the environmental risks involve complex
chemistry, such a hurdle is not a reason for “cover-up”; it merely heightens
the need for candor.
_________________________________________________________________________
Wikipedia defines Toxic Heavy Metals 

A toxic heavy metal is any relatively dense metal or
metalloid that is noted for its potential toxicity, especially in environmental
contexts.[4] The term has particular application to cadmium, mercury, lead and
arsenic,[5] all of which appear in the World Health Organisation’s list of 10
chemicals of major public concern.[6]
More information is available on the Link above.
________________________________________________________________________

You may well ask: why, at this late date, are we asking
such questions? Surely, no stone was left unturned in the original assessment
of the property’s safety and suitability?

The evidence does not support such a contention.

The following
excerpts are verbatim the Pinchin Leblanc Report’s Executive Summary:

“some metal concentrations in soil samples collected from the north and
northeast wall of the excavation (adjacent the Site boundary) exceed  the CSQGs for residential and commercial land
use;
(Editor’s Note: CSQG – Canadian Soil Quality
Guidelines)

Metal concentrations in one soil sample collected from the base of the
northwest portion of the excavation exceeds the commercial CSQGs
;

Where detected VOCs in soil were below the CSQGs with the exception of
TCE in four soil samples (includes a duplicate sample) collected from the north
wall of the excavation and benzene in a duplicate soil sample collected from
the northeast wall of the excavation. Benzene was not detected in the original
sample. This variance is likely related to the heterogeneity of the sample
(i.e. collected from the debris layer).”

This may sound like a science
lecture but the importance of the issue is compelling enough not paraphrase, but to quote the Pinchin Leblanc Report.

At this point, it is important to
point out that contamination on the school site has been tested using
commercial standards. Those are more lenient than the contamination standards (often
referred to as “exceedences”) used for residential areas.

For example, the Study locates a sandbox on the site of the existing playground.
Part 5.4.4 describes nine soil samples taken in this area. Part 8.1.3.2 states
that the results did not exceed commercial land use CSQG but does not indicate
if the results exceed the residential limits.

On the other hand, results from the north bank are compared to
residential criteria due to the presence of residential properties located
immediately to the north of the Site.

Part 8.1.4.2 of the Report states: “Some metal concentrations exceeded the
residential and commercial land use CSQGs including antimony, arsenic, barium,
chromium, copper, lead, nickel, tin and/or zinc in five of the final excavation
boundary soil samples (BS21, BS25, BS56 & BS69). These sample locations
were not removed during the excavation work and are situated along the north
and northeast wall of the excavation.”

Part 8.1.4.5 states the area along the North east wall contains
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
The Report does not make clear if they
have to be removed.

_________________________________________________________________________

…..these are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at
ordinary room temperature and are potentially dangerous to human health. Click the Link above for more details.
_________________________________________________________________________

What does the Pinchin LeBlanc
Report recommend?

Again, the recommendations are verbatim
the Report.

“Based on the results of the work”,
it states:

1.         It is
recommended that a Risk Management Plan and Safe Work Procedure for on-Site
workers be developed to limit exposure to on-Site personnel (i.e. construction
workers). Remaining metals in soil at the north and northwest (“northeast” was the
direction likely intended by the drafter) portion of the Site do not pose a
risk to human health or environmental health provided that the operative
exposure pathway (i.e. dermal contact) remains incomplete by maintaining
suitable cover.”
(Editor’s Note:
this line should be understood to mean workers should “suit up” before
coming in contact with the material. Underline added.)

2.         It is recommended that a Quantitative Risk
Assessment (QRA) for the site to further assess the TCE and benzene exceedances
identified in the soil. The critical exposure pathway, in this case, is the
volatilization of these COCs to indoor air. Depending on the final results of
the QRA, engineering controls such as soil venting or the installation of a
sub-slap vapour extraction system may be needed to mitigate the risk to
building occupants.
(
Editor’s Note: though
remediation work was conducted below the new foundation, a sub-slap vapour
extraction system has still been designed into the plans for the new school.)

3.         The extent of metals, benzene and TCE
impacts identified in soil have not been fully delineated towards the
residential properties located north of the Site. Further delineation is
typically required in this case. However, since the Site and surrounding
properties were reportedly used as a military landfill, it is unclear who would
be required to complete the work. It is recommended that the Newfoundland
Department of Environment and Conservation be advised of the results to
determine a course of action.

_________________________________________________________________________
(TCE) Trichloroethylene – United States Environmental Protection Web Site 
                                  
“A recent analysis of available epidemiological studies reports
trichloroethylene exposure to be associated with several types of cancers in
humans, especially kidney, liver, cervix, and lymphatic system….”

Assessing and managing chemicals/Fact Sheet on Trichloroethylene (TCE)  
________________________________________________________________________

New Virginia Park Elementary School

As the third recommendation
states, the area was a military landfill; that is to say it was a dump site for the American base at Pleasantville. While,
possibly, residential and school construction went ahead at a time when there
was a lot less knowledge of the environmental impacts of heavy metals and VOCs,
we can no longer make that case.


When they are found on a school
site, their potential harmful implications are sufficient to affirm the issue
should not be left to the secrecy of a handful of bureaucrats.



Given the history of secrecy within TW (supported by officials in the Department of Education and NLESD) , the school council of VPES should look for some independent technical and scientific advice on how it might obtain certainty that the site is suitable, before construction proceeds.  

The public needs reliable information as to the full extent of the contamination, its health implications, how long it will take to make the site “clean”, and the estimated cost.

Proof needs to be shown that the site can be fully remediated at a cost that justifies keeping the school in its present location.  

Quite rightly, some would argue the
dump ought to have stayed ‘green space’ or that, based upon environmental
assessments conducted prior to the start of the new school, a decision ought to
have been taken to relocate the dump in its entirety. (One confidential source suggests
that approach might have been far less costly than the piecemeal way it is
being dealt with now.)

If the Department
of TW ignores those issues, it will not just earn the contempt of
the public; the government will have set itself up, again, for very large additional
costs. It will have learned nothing from the last financial debacle which
occurred on this very site.

Finally, the full
extent of the area requiring remediation is unknown. The volume of contaminated
materials and the boundaries of the old dump are not fully understood,
either.

The Government may have to extend
soil testing and analysis beyond the school boundaries. 

The Departments of Environment and
Conservation and TW have a public duty to commence additional studies to
delineate the full area of the old dump site.

The Consultant recommends “soil
venting”.  Parents should still be told
why a sub slab ventilation system, which has been designed into the foundation
of the new school, is actually necessary, given the remediation work that has
been conducted below the foundation. (It is not as if schools, and most government buildings, have a history of diligent maintenance practices, either. The system proposed is not a passive, or maintenance-free system.) 

From several points of view,
continued work on the new Virginia Park Elementary School demands an open and
honest sharing of information.

In particular, the Department of
Education and Early Childhood Development has an obligation to ensure that the
school site contains zero doubts as to whether it is “fit for purpose”.

The reason government officials
have been sitting on this Report, for nine months, is not apparent.

There have been far too many cover-ups
involving the TW Department, the Department of Education, and NLESD.

The Uncle Gnarley Blog revealed the
“cover-up” of the Roncalli concrete wall collapse and the “cover-up” of the structural deficiencies at Waterford Valley High School, too, on which more information is
forthcoming.

Then, this Blog uncovered a breakdown in oversight of the remediation work on this very site.

Construction on this new elementary school has already cost over $7 million. ; That sum is supposed to get a lot more than the stage of completion evident in the photo above. In case you did not read that Post, the first Tender was awarded in the amount of $2.95 million (for
the foundation, structural steel, and removal of contaminated soil). But the
Government received a bill for $7.8 million – which, for reasons undisclosed got negotiated down to $4.8 million. (Perhaps the new Minister of
TW will also be able to explain how the other $3 million was paid.)

What are we to make of this latest example of “cover-up”? What are those officials not
getting, I wonder? 



It will be interesting to know if this issue was found in the briefing notes of the three Ministries where this Report is being discussed. 

If the new Government is serious
about transparency, it will advise those officials of the commitments contained in the Premier’s mandate letters. In particular, the Ministers of TW and Education will inform them the time for the
hand-wringing is over!

Today, the three relevant Ministers and the Premier will be sent a Link to this Post. After today, none of those authorities can say they weren’t informed.
To those whose concern is that this disclosure may slow down the completion of a long anticipated project, I would simply say: no public issue deserves a place in the corridors of secrecy, especially not one as important as public safety around a school.
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The old plaza behind the school could have been purchased inexpensively a few years ago and used as the new location. Many bad decisions were made and will continue to be made until there is a massive purge of DM/ADM/Director/Managers in the Public Service. After such a purge (that will likely never happen), you would have to hire via a public competition, competent people to administer and provide government services. This blog is full of outrageous problems and it should be clear to any astute observer that our government is horrendously diseased. It benefits nobody other than providing a good income/pension for career sycophants, handouts to the business community and profits to our lenders. Back to the school issue, the dump needs to be relocated in its entirety even if that means digging up residential properties. The excavation and re-mediation should be done using government personal and trucks — no point in inviting private companies in for yet another feeding frenzy and orgy of change orders. Then finish the school and open the financial books so that we can learn from the financial damage. Finally, people at Transportation and Works and Education need to be fired.