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Contaminated sites cost estimates skyrocket

The Canadian government will have to spend billions more on cleaning up contaminated sites, according to a report issued April 10 by the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer.


The Canadian government will have to spend billions more on cleaning up contaminated sites, according to a report issued April 10 by the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Written by Rod Story and Tolga Yalkin, the report estimates the financial costs to remediate the current and future contaminated sites included in the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory, as well as those predicted to be added.

The PBO’s report’s executive summary says that Canada’s reported liability for contaminated sites in the inventory is $4.9 billion. Of this $4.9 billion, $1.8 billion is for “general inventory” sites, which are the focus of the report.

The authors write: “Whereas the public accounts report $1.8 billion associated with remediating these [general inventory] sites, the PBO estimates that the cost of remediation will be closer to $3.9 billion — $2.1 billion above that currently reported to Parliament in the public accounts.”

The PBO’s estimate is higher “because it includes liabilities for sites that have not been assessed or are not fully assessed, liabilities for sites yet to be identified, and increases in liability for sites in active remediation.”

The federal government is responsible for remediating thousands of contaminated sites, including former military sites, as well as mining and industrial sites from decades ago where the original companies who owned and operated the sites have gone bankrupt. Consulting engineering companies are helping to assess and design the remediation methods for many of these sites.

Many of the 1,248 contaminated sites in Canada that are actively being assessed are near cities. A CBC report cites the example of the Kingston Penitentiary where the soils have been found to contain metals and substances which likely come from the coal that was used to heat the buildings in previous centuries. Many other industrial sites are polluted by petroleum and other chemicals such as PCBs that were once used in batteries and equipment.

The $3.9 billion estimate for general inventory sites covered in the April 10 report does not include the cost of remediating the Port Hope site on Lake Ontario, or the “Big Five” sites, which are the Faro min, Colomac mine, Giant mine, Cape Dyer-DEW line, and Goose Bay Air Base. The remaining liability for these sites is $1.8 billion.

To read the Parliamentary Budget Officer report, “Federal Contaminated Sites Cost” of April 10, 2014, click here.

CBC shows an interactive map of the sites being remediated across Canada according to Treasury Board Data, click here.