Toxic solvents found on Willoughby land

Trevor Lassam had a good crop of grapes this year off some vines along the northern edge of his Langley property.

Most of them went into his compost, and Lassam isn’t even sure that was a good place for them.

Lassam’s land appears to be contaminated with an industrial solvent, dichloromethane. While a report released last week says it isn’t enough to cause health concerns, Lassam is still worried.

“What’s it doing to our health?” Lassam said. “We’ve been breathing it for a long time already.”

In April, police swooped down on a house in the 20600 block of 72nd Avenue.

The tenants at the rental property had set up a relatively sophisticated drug lab, apparently making ecstasy, in a garage on the property. RCMP officers wearing hazmat suits carted away tub after tub of chemicals.

Neighbours down the slope from the site had long complained about strange and foul odours, and by the time of the police raid, the blackberry bushes behind the drug lab had begun to die. Water in nearby ditches often had a brown, sludgy colour that left rust-like stains on rocks and cement pipes. Water running off the property still has a strange sheen. Lassam and his neighbours estimated that the drug makers had been there as long as three years.

When police dismantled the lab, they found that the drug makers had simply been dumping some chemicals out a pipe at the back of the garage. The chemicals then simply ran down the slope.

In May, the BC Environment Ministry warned that there could be contamination of nearby land. 

After that, nearby residents say they had enormous difficulty finding out who would take responsibility for testing the soil and water. Neighbours Diana and Tom Sampson, who live farther down the slope, sent off numerous emails to various levels of government, from Langley Township to the province. It took some time before they began running tests. 

Eventually, the landlord of the former drug lab site was ordered to undertake testing. After some delays, a crew was hired to drill holes on the lab site, and on Lassam’s property as well as another neighbour’s land.

“When they dug the boreholes over there, the smell almost knocked them out,” Lassam said, indicating one of the several holes drilled on the three sites.

In mid-November, the provincial Environment Ministry received a Site Risk Classification Report.

The report showed that dichloromethane levels “were found to exceed the appropriate Contaminated Sites Regulation soil and groundwater standards.”

Dichloromethane is a solvent used in everything from decaffeinating coffee to model aircraft making. It has also been the cause of the deaths of several workers in the United States in recent years who breathed in too many fumes while stripping paint off bathtubs.

“No immediate human health risks are evident based on the SPCR,” said a summary of the report’s findings.

The full report is being reviewed by the ministry, and it’s uncertain what will happen next.

“Further requirements may include ongoing monitoring, further investigation or the submission of a remedial plan and schedule,” said the initial report.

Lassam was disappointed that he didn’t receive a summary of the report. He heard nothing from the ministry after the workers doing testing left his property.

Right now, Lassam is still awaiting a detailed report, and word on whether or not there will be a clean up.

“They seem to take their time,” he said of the ministry’s response.

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