ELMIRA — A citizen committee charged with overseeing the cleanup of polluted groundwater in Elmira says alarming levels of the dangerous pesticide DDT have been found in the Canagagigue Creek.
"The whole issue is that we found it offsite, across a private property and that's really the whole issue that I think people are dancing around here is offsite contamination," said committee member Graham Chevreau.
Lab tests commissioned by the committee show levels of DDT up to 2,900 times the Ministry of Environment's maximum allowable concentration standards about 50 metres south of the Chemtura plant.
The group says its testing shows contamination is migrating off the Chemtura site.
Mayor Sandy Shantz said she is trying to get more information on what the results mean.
"There's not a need for people to panic about the creek," Shantz said. "We are going to followup and we will find out just exactly what it means that these levels were found there."
Previous ministry testing near the Chemtura site in the past few years did record DDT in the sediment. However the latest tests, conducted in June, show much higher levels of that chemical as well as dioxin, which was used in the production of Agent Orange.
From 1945 to 1948, Uniroyal Chemical, now Chemtura, produced up to 300,000 pounds of DDT per year.
At that time, the committee says, two gravel pits were used to collect stormwater run-off containing DDT and other chemicals.
Uniroyal was contracted to produce Agent Orange for the U.S. government in 1960. It contained the toxic chemical dioxin which was also detected in the committee's tests.
In 1989, township wells were closed when cancer-causing chemical NDMA got into the water system from Uniroyal.
Water is now pumped to Woolwich through a pipeline from Waterloo.
The ministry ordered water cleaned up by 2028, a target officials said in 2014 wasn't on track.
The Chemtura Public Advisory Committee is made up of a group of citizens that has studied the township's polluted groundwater since 2010.
They have warned for years that contamination from Chemtura is migrating off site and not being captured by the pump-and-treat system in place to clean up the groundwater.
The company has been aware of DDT contamination for several years, Chemtura representative Jeff Merriman said in correspondence to council that's part of Tuesday's Woolwich council meeting package.
"Chemtura is keenly aware of the presence of contaminants in the Canagagigue Creek to the south of our property," Merriman said.
He said the company conducted four successful cleanup efforts on the Chemtura site.
The committee has asked council to demand the ministry conduct more tests at the south boundary of the Chemtura property to show chemicals are leaking offsite and ensure that is stopped.
"My gut feeling is you're going to be finding the same kinds of chemicals on site that you find offsite," Chevreau said.
Chemtura is completing a work plan that includes sampling, groundwater, soil and test pits. The plan was submitted to the ministry in January and is expected to be finished in September, Merriman said.
In his correspondence to council, Merriman said no further direction is needed on cleanup efforts.
"Chemtura will take appropriate action to address any impacts to the environment, based on the findings of this study," Merriman said.