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Federal Government Creating Inventory of Contaminated Sites

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

The federal Treasury Board has established a Contaminated Site Management Framework. It has two parts:

1.     A policy for an inventory of contaminated sites and solid waste landfills. The policy was completed and posted on the Treasury Board website in June 2000. It is effective as of April 1, 2000.

2.     A general policy in five to six parts for the management of contaminated sites under federal jurisdiction. This is currently underway.

The policies are only about how the federal government will deal with its own sites, not with those that are privately or provincially owned. The inventory has been necessitated by the insistence of the Auditor-General in previous reports that the government will move to Full Accrual Accounting. This means they will have to show liabilities for contaminated sites on their books as liabilities starting next year. In order to do this, they need to know where the sites are, evaluate the hazards, and estimate the costs of clean-up.

The Auditor-General estimates there are 5000 sites that will costs about $2 billion to remediate. Many of these are abandoned mines. the Ministry of Finance has made a special allocation of $30 million over two years to undertake the inventory and the policy development required. It will be up to each federal department to undertake the inventory within their department, estimate the costs of remediation, and enter this information in the database. By the end of this year, that data will be publicly accessible on the web. It is expected that the database will be continually up-dated.

Physical and chemical site assessment will be done of all sites. This is managed by Treasury Board.

The clean-up standard Treasury Board is using to estimate cost is based on remediation to safe standards for the function for which the site is now, or has most recently, been used. In many cases, this will be industrial, although the most negative impacts will be stopped.

The inventory will be limited to land owned by the federal government. However, the Financial Administration Act limits the extent of this. Crown lands for example, are considered to be "lands for which no title is raised", and Crown Corporations are exempt. This means that the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs is only co-operating in the study on a voluntary basis. There will be no accounting from Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, since it is a Crown corporation. Most aboriginal lands are also not included, since they don't belong to the Crown. Where land has been sold by the federal government and later found to be contaminated, the inventory will consider that liability has ceased, since it was sold "as is, where is, and when is".