Ongoing community outreach from the Trail Area Health and Environment Program is literally paying off in spades this summer as 17 soil remediation jobs have already been completed, and up to 75 more yards are ready for the digging.
One of those yard and garden redressments was at the Florko family home.
Felix Florko is 3.5 years old, and making sure he has an unsullied backyard to play in – one that is free of lead and other historic heavy metal smelter pollutants – is the reason this branch of the community-led environmental program exists.
So, how did the family find out about this no-cost option to replace contaminated soil and sod?
“Friends were having it done when we first moved here,” began mom, Jessica Florko. “I also started going to the mom groups at the library and elsewhere, and they actually have people (from the program) come in and explain things to you.”
While living in a rental, the Florkos kept their name on the soil management list.
During this time, Jessica says the Healthy Homes program provided great advice on reducing potential exposure to lead in the rental, and they gave the family a much needed new vacuum to help keep their temporary home free of dust.
By the time the Florkos moved out of the rental and into their own home last fall, their name had moved to the top of the remediation list.
After having the backyard soil tested in November 2019 and receiving a summary of those results a few months later (showing lead and arsenic), the family was ready for workers to start digging in a few weeks ago.
Due to some delays caused by rain, their backyard makeover of clean soil and fresh grass should wrap up this week or next.
Besides having a great outcome – a safe and healthy play space for Felix in his own backyard – the job provided days filled with other unexpected positives for the lad.
“When the guys dug this up, he sat in the windows for hours watching the big trucks digging and pouring dirt,” Jessica shared. “And I am hearing the same thing from all his little friends (whose homes were done). Watching the work being done has been very entertaining and the workers are like ‘super heroes’ to them.”
For soil remediation specifically, the program looks at three criteria to determine how properties are prioritized. Those key factors are; proximity to the smelter, the presence of children under six, and the presence of ground cover, such as grass, and lead levels in soil.
“Our immediate focus is properties that are expected to have higher levels of metals in the soil, such as those nearest the smelter,” explained Andrea McCormick, soil remediation project manager. “(Although) projects underway are spread across the community,” she said.
“We have worked in nearly every neighbourhood from Rivervale to Glenmerry and will continue to do so for the remaining projects.”
The age of six years is the current proxy because older children have a higher tolerance to potential exposure.
The ultimate goal, however, is to identify and offer soil testing to all residential properties in the Trail area with children under 12 years old present.
A community survey completed last fall showed that residents were overwhelmingly supportive of the yard remediation program – 96 per cent of respondents said they were either very supportive or supportive of increased soil remediation of yards in Trail. The remaining percentile said they felt either neutral or did not know enough about the program to answer.
“The program expanded in 2019 with increased visibility in our local neighbourhoods,” said McCormick. “As such, we are very thankful for the patience and support the community has given us both on the properties we are working on and within the neighbourhoods where we have been working.”
She reminds the community that it’s important to note that soil management is just one aspect of the Trail Area Health and Environment Program, or “THEP,” for short.
“Other existing components of the program will continue,” McCormick advises. “Including Healthy Homes and Family Health, focusing on families with children up to three-years-old, and Lead Safe Renovation for do-it-yourself renovators.”
All soil testing and improvement work is coordinated and paid for by THEP through funding provided by Teck.
In 2020, Teck Metals invested approximately $5 million toward the soil management program alone as part of its continued commitment to healthy homes and gardens in the Trail area. This is similar to what was invested in 2019.
There is no cost to the landowner for yard remediation.
However; some homeowners have chosen to tack on additional aspects at their own cost such as irrigation or additional plants.
Annual Soil Management Plans are an interim step focused on highest risk properties.
Teck and THEP are working with the BC Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to develop and seek approval for long-term soil management called a Wide Area Remediation Plan.
Once that plan is drafted, a full public consultation will take place prior to approval and implementation.
Andrea McCormick is a professional Agrologist. Based in the THEP Community Program Office for SNC-Lavalin Inc., located on Bay Avenue, she has been working with the program since 2008.