Porous, sandy soil is making cleanup of old Glidden paint plant site on Wallace trickier.
At a dead end along cpr's old Bruce service track on working-class Wallace, a stone's throw from gritty Bloor and Lansdowne, the ghost of Mike Harris and the whiff of hip possibilities hang together weirdly in the autumn air.
Look north from the pedestrian bridge arching over the rail lines and you'll see townhouses going up and early-19th-?century industrial buildings that used to be factories being converted to swank lofts and condos.
On the site where the old Glidden paint and varnish plant once stood, a massive soil cleanup is under way.
Black tarps cover mounds of dirt. On a fence bordering the site, a notice outlines special permission from the city to clean up contaminants that extend off site and underneath the roadway.
For nine decades beginning in 1911, Glidden operated here, spilling untold amounts of solvents, chemicals with names too long to pronounce, with long-term health effects from exposure too scary to contemplate. The area, which forms part of the Junction Triangle, contains some of the most contaminated former industrial lands in the entire country.
And herein lies the dilemma for planners: huge swaths of old industrial T.O. are on the cusp of new beginnings.
The Glidden site is being readied for future development, but it's unclear what this means. It's all a mystery to area residents and has been since the stink of volatile organic compounds from remediation efforts began wafting into the air last summer.
Glidden's parent, ICI Paints, is keeping info about the sale of the land under wraps, since it's contingent on the province giving its seal of approval to the cleanup.
But don't suggest to local councillor Adam Giambrone that another big-box debacle like the one SmartCentres has foisted on Leslieville is in the offing.
The Glidden parcel also happens to be smack dab in the middle of the one of the few designated-for-employment areas still left in Toronto.
"Everyone sees the importance of protecting our employment lands," Giambrone says.
But it's residential that may be the most likely use for the Glidden site. There's less of a market right now for commercial or industrial development, Giambrone concedes.
Present and future residents can only cross their fingers and hold their breath in hopes that bad experiences with cleanups of other nearby industrial lands aren't repeated on Wallace.
The Glidden cleanup might not even be on the community radar were it not for the efforts of Bev Agar, one very determined local, whose questions about the project have generally been met by officialdom with something approaching derision. Perhaps it's those multiple chemical sensitivities Agar suffers from.
For Agar, details about work at the Glidden site have been slow in coming. "We're not getting information. We're not part of the process and we don't feel protected."
It's only when Agar complained to Giambrone's office and Toronto public health about residents experiencing headaches and nosebleeds that notices were sent out about work at the Glidden site, essentially telling residents to call a doctor if symptoms persisted.
Philippe Gingras, a rep for Biogenie, the company conducting the cleanup, acknowledges that complaints about fumes generated by the project were coming from as far as five blocks away.
"We learned a few lessons on this one, certainly," says Gingras, but he's quick to add that flyers were sent out to the few dozen homes closest to the site.
No law requires companies, the city or the province to notify locals of the hazards involved in cleanups, despite the fact that the long-term effects of exposure to volatile organic compounds can be downright dangerous and may include cancer and liver, kidney and nervous system damage.
That's where Mike Harris comes into the story. It was his Tory government that loosened the rules around brownfields redevelopment.
Provincial cleanup guidelines that used to be enforced by the city's public health department have been privatized, outsourced to consultants.
In a strange coincidence, the former premier also happens to be chair of the board of EnGlobe, whose business subsidiaries include Biogenie.
Under the Health Promotion And Protection Act, Toronto public health could intervene in an extreme case, as it did to deal with asbestos contamination after the Sunrise Propane explosion this summer, says public health supervisor Reg Ayre.
But Ayre says the city is by law "required to work with the provincial ministry with key jurisdiction." In this case, the Ministry of the Environment, which is not itself conducting any testing of emissions from the site, seems satisfied with Biogenie's weekly reports of its monitoring, according to which ministry guidelines are not being exceeded.
Work is slated to be completed by Christmas. By then, some 50,000 tonnes of contaminated soil will have been excavated and treated onsite using a method that employs bacteria to eat up contaminants. The porous, sandy soil on the Glidden site makes the cleanup especially tricky.
Before Biogenie arrived, Glidden tried for more than a decade to extract contaminants from the site using a system of underground wells and pumps - all to no avail.
It may already be too late for the area environment, according to chemist David McAlpine, who should know. He worked in the paint industry for many years. Petroleum-based solvents used in paint tend to float on water. Whatever did percolate down to the water table has either made its way to the lake or is still sitting under local buildings and houses.
"The processes of cleaning up are not as foolproof as some people like to think," says McAlpine, "The tech is not as clear-cut and efficient as one would hope."
Tell it to condo-crazed developers.