Sarnia closes off Centennial Park after finding asbestos in soil

Submitted photo The red outline marks where the fencing has been placed in Centennial Park after asbestos has been found in soil samples

Submitted photo
The red outline marks where the fencing has been placed in Centennial Park after asbestos has been found in soil samples

One of Sarnia’s marquee parks is likely off limits the entire summer after asbestos was found in the soil.

The city hired a consultant to sample the soil for contaminants after a tar like substance came to the surface of the bowl area last summer. That area was fenced off and graveled over last year. But as Golder and Associates began to take samples though out the waterfront park this spring, it began finding evidence of more chemicals.

The playground was the first to be fenced in after lead was found in a grassy area nearby. Then the beach was enclosed, leaving only a sidewalk exposed.

But now City Manager Lloyd Fennell says the consultants have found three samples, two in the playground and one near the graveled area where the problems first surfaced, which have asbestos in them.

Fennell ordered all of the grassy areas to be fenced in and city staff has begun looking for alternative locations for the festivals which normally use the park in the summertime. Fennell says the concrete walkway along the waterfront will remain open since it is an impermeable surface.

Fennell says the exact amounts of asbestos is not known but “I’m not prepared to take any risks with asbestos,” say Fennell.

While it isn’t clear exactly where the asbestos has come from, the park was an industrial site when the city was first formed and when the park was created, fill with unknown content was used.

Fennell says further testing is being done and the consultants will work from the north of the park all the way to the south to see where the problems are. He hopes as they do this, the city will be able to reopen areas which are clean.

But Fennell says it will be a long process and once the entire park has been analysed the city will still have to come up with a plan to deal with the problem areas.

“I think the fencing is going to be up for an extended period,” says Fennell. “It’s possible it could be for the whole summer.”

Fennell says that may cause some problems but “the wellbeing of the public and any visitors is certainly more important.”

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley agrees. “The decision was made err on the side of caution…it was decided not to take any chances.

“That park has been the premier park for the community along with Canatara since the mid-60s,” he says. “To have this avalanche of different concerns is disheartening. Our job for council and staff is to get the best information possible and make the decision to deal with what the decisions are,” says Bradley.

As more problems are uncovered, the cost of the testing and the eventual cleanup climbs. “There is no question there is going to be significant cost to this,” says the mayor noting the amount will depend on what the cleanup will entail. “We simply don’t know what the remedial actions are, it will depend on the depth and locations…but there are costs that are starting to build up.”

He doubts there will be federal, provincial or industry money to help cover that cost.

The city has posted information about the testing and answers to human health questions on the city’s website to help ease any public concerns.

And one anti-asbestos activist says the city is doing all the right things. Sandra Kinart of the Victims of the Chemical Valley, was stunned by the new asbestos was found at the park. But she’s pleased the city is stepping up immediately.

“It’s shocking and they (the city) do need to close it all off. They can’t leave it,” Kinart said after hearing about the find. “The fact they closed it off is a good thing children play there.”

Kinart says finding asbestos and other industrial chemicals in the soil is becoming a world-wide problem and she hope the discovery of the chemicals in a well-loved park will help people speak up about the health problems associated with industry in Sarnia.

“Do they assume this is normal or do they stand up and say enough is enough…I wish the community would really gather together and let their voices be heard so we can stop this.”

– Heather Wright