The City of Toronto has proposed to reject a streamlined risk assessment process that’s been gaining popularity among Ontario’s environmental consultants working with contaminated lands.
For years, Ontario consultants dreamt of a quicker risk assessment process for contaminated sites; and the province responded with a modified process designed to speed things along. Despite industry getting used to the idea of a modified generic risk assessment (MGRA), a City of Toronto committee is now proposing to reject the expedited brownfields process, primarily out of concern that clean-up crews would not adhere to full depth site condition standards.
In a nutshell, a risk assessment scientifically examines the risk posed to humans, plants, wildlife and the natural environment from exposure to a contaminant. It also helps guide the development of standards that aim to protect the property’s uses.
As Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee considered the feasibility of the MGRA at its meeting June 18, 2014, word of the conversation quickly reached a brownfields conference taking place nearby. Presenters were focused on explaining the very MGRA process the City committee has proposed to axe.
Presenters and delegates at the Brownfield Redevelopment: Policy, Planning and Practice conference, some of whom have ongoing projects engaged in the MGRA process, were surprised as environmental lawyer Janet Bobechko of Blaney McMurtry LLP, broke the news.
“It’s going to put the big kibosh on a lot of plans,” said Bobechko, who added that the committee proposal against MGRAs is one that “erodes confidence in how we approach clients. The rules can’t change,” she told the conference. “This is a process that industry is actually using.”
Armed with Powerpoint, Bobechko worked to back up her position using Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) statistics that show MGRAs have been increasing each year, in terms of using them to file Records of Site Condition to the provincial registry. That increase is particularly important when noting that the total Records of Site Condition issued in Ontario have been steadily dropping.
In 2011, Bobechko noted that Ontario issued 679 Records of Site Condition. In 2013, the number dropped to 364. So far in 2014? Although just a couple of months have been recorded, only 53 records have been approved. Bobechko believes this drop to be somewhat reflective of the current marketplace, she called it a “very frightening statistic.”
She added, “The City of Toronto needs to take a look at these stats.”
The Toronto committee is recommending that city council, at a July 8, 2014 meeting, not endorse the MOE’s expedited MGRA process or its stratified site condition standards. The committee sees both approaches as flawed because contaminated soil could remain on the land at various depths, forcing land use restrictions or operational limitations.
According to a June 2014 report from Toronto’s executive director of Engineering and Construction Services Division, these various depths create additional liability, as well as a health and environmental concerns. City staff wants clean-up crews to use the full depth site condition standards.
“They’ve misunderstood the intent of these risk management measures,” Steve Desrochers, senior contaminant hydrogeologist at Golder Associates Ltd., told the June 18, 2014 brownfields conference. “Deviations are causing such concern that they want to through the entire model out.”
The City committee also has concerns that the MGRA approach is limited because it can only be applied to a short list of contaminants.
The municipality often requires an applicant to transfer lands to the City for new roads, road widenings and parks. Before this can occur, the City requires the applicant to show that the lands meet applicable standards for soil and groundwater quality, a requirement seen as unnecessarily challenging with the stratified and MGRA approaches, in the committee’s view.
The City of Toronto has proposed to only accept a Record of Site Condition acquired by meeting full depth site condition standards.
Toronto’s own standards for the transfer — or conveyance — of a risk-assessed property were last updated in 2007, prior to the MOE introducing the MGRA.
In 2004, the Ontario MOE enacted Ontario Regulation 153/04 under the Environmental Protection Act to require a Record of Site Condition. When land use changes from a less sensitive use to a more sensitive use (e.g., when industrial or commercial lands are proposed to be converted to residential or parkland use, the more sensitive use must be considered.