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Great Lakes Article:

Nobody owns up to mystery spill
Dow Chemical reports unknown material in river
Ontario lab finds de-icer in sample, more tests planned
By Kate Harries and Pat Currie
Toronto Star
02/18/04

SARNIA-Alarms and changed alerts caused confusion up and down the St. Clair River yesterday as investigators sought to find the source and content of a reported chemical spill.

On Monday, Dow Chemical's sensors reported dangerously high levels of ethylene oxide, a toxic chemical, which triggered warnings that closed municipal water intakes at Wallaceburg, Walpole Island and across the river, in U.S. communities from Port Huron to Algonac.

A release by the Chatham-Kent Health Unit said concentrations from 36 to 815 parts per billion were registered.

"I've been told Florida has set the safe limit at 10 ppb in water. There is no safe level in Canada for this stuff," said Bela Trebics, a Wallaceburg industry monitor and environmentalist.

Yesterday, new Dow testing contradicted its initial report.

"We have confirmed it is not ethylene oxide," said Dow spokesperson Mimi Long, adding the spill did not originate from its site.

"We have quite a mystery on our hands," said Environment Ministry spokesperson John Steele.

With no obvious culprit, it could take the ministry laboratory some time to determine what leaked or if anything leaked, Steele said, suggesting Dow equipment could be faulty. "No one upstream of Dow is taking any responsibility for anything entering the watercourse."

A ministry team, sent to Sarnia 10 days ago after Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky promised zero tolerance for leaks, is investigating.

Steele said last night tests in the ministry's Toronto lab of eight samples taken yesterday from Walpole Island's drinking water showed only minimal traces in one sample of ethylene glycol, a de-icer. He said no traces of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a generic term for unidentified chemicals, were found in raw water samples taken near the reserve's water intake in the St. Clair.

Steele said more samples taken at the Dow plant would be tested today.(No matter what's in the water, Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley wants the Ontario government to put an end to the Chemical Valley incidents.

"What matters is that materials keep escaping into the St. Clair River. It happened last August and again two weeks ago. That's the issue," said Bradley.

Investigators probed possible sources along the river and checked out about 10 cargo ships tied up for the winter in Sarnia harbour, the mayor said.

Downriver communities are still reeling from the Feb. 1 Imperial Oil spill that put 150,000 litres of methyl ethyl ketone and isobutyl ketone in the river. That shut Wallaceburg's water-treatment plant for two days.

"We were within a couple of hours of shutting down local industries," Trebics said.

In Mount Clemens, Mich., Macomb County Water Quality Board last week voted unanimously to fine Imperial about $8 million for the spill. It threatened to sue if the Canadian plant does not pay up in 60 days.

Sarnia's Chemical Valley is Canada's largest grouping of chemical and petrochemical plants. Five years ago, Ron Denning, vice-chair of the Bi-national Public Advisory Council, said Chemical Valley spills had decreased so drastically the international waterway would soon be dropped from the Great Lakes list of toxic hot spots.

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