Cleanup of sludge from Etobicoke fire expected to take until end of October, minister says

Efforts to clean up sludge from two creeks following an industrial fire in Toronto’s west end are expected to take until the end of October, Ontario’s environment minister said on Monday.

David Piccini told CBC Toronto that the ministry is working with Toronto Water, Environment Canada and GFL Environmental Inc., a waste management company, to clean up and contain sludge that has contaminated Mimico Creek and Humber Creek.

The material spilled into the waterways following a six-alarm fire at Brenntag Canada, a chemical distribution company in Etobicoke, on Aug. 11. GFL has been hired to help clean up oily residue that has harmed and killed birds, fish and mammals in Mimico Creek. 

“We expect to be on site till the end of October. We will remain on site until we’ve ensured that every aspect is cleaned up, protected and mitigated against future risk and we’ll continue to do that,” Piccini said.

Environment Minister David Piccini says: ‘We will remain on site until we’ve ensured that every aspect is cleaned up, protected and and mitigate against future risk and we’ll continue to do that.’ (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

“We have a number of containment sites. We’re working collaboratively with a variety of partners that include Toronto Public Health, Environment and Climate Change Canada, local fire authorities, to contain and clean up the residual material from the fire and also the spill, and ensure that we mitigate impacts to the environment. And we’re going to continue to monitor as long as it takes to ensure that this issue is dealt with.”

Heavy rain last Thursday caused a breach of the spill containment in Mimico Creek, pushing the spill further downstream.

Piccini said he shares the frustration of local residents but said, “Considerable progress has been made to remove the slurry from Lake Ontario, the containment areas located at Humber Bay Park.”

Sludge has reached Lake Ontario, ministry confirms

In an email on Monday, the ministry confirmed that the sludge has reached Lake Ontario due to Thursday’s rain, but “did not reach the open water.”

The ministry added that as of Monday morning, the contaminated material had been collected and work is ongoing to remove the remaining oil sheen beyond the containment area “within the next few days.”

Once crews have removed the material from the mouth of Mimico Creek, cleanup efforts will be focused on the creek banks, the ministry said. GFL will work with Toronto Water to flush the storm sewers from the fire site to stormwater outfalls and will continue cleaning up the creek banks, it added.

Aerial (drone) images of the run off from the industrial fire in Etobicoke along Mimico Creek now appears to be leaching into the Humber Bay and into Lake Ontario. There is a pond of beige sludge the size of a city pool they're trying to clean up. There is a massive cleanup effort underway. They've closed the Humber Bay Park West Parking lot and boat ramp and brought in a lot of heavy machinery. 
A drone view of Mimico Creek shows a boat on the contaminated water. A sheen of oil is visible. (Patrick Morrell/CBC News)

The ministry has not said what the spilled material contains but Toronto Fire Services, which fought the fire for hours and continued to extinguish hot spots for days, has said petroleum products burned. 

The ministry, with the help of Toronto Water, has been taking samples of creek and lake water.

It said there has been no impact on drinking water locally as a result of the chemical mix now in the water but that officials are monitoring closely.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre, for its part, said in an email on Monday that it has admitted 106 birds for cleaning so far.

“Our hotline team is looking into some new sightings before our rescue team decides if they are going to go out and look for them. Many of the affected birds left are also flighted, so this makes our job harder — and makes it harder for the birds,” the centre said in the email.

Ducks are cleaned in a soap bath at the Toronto Wildlife Centre in Toronto on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. After an industrial fire in Etobicoke, Ont. last week lead to contamination of Mimico Creek, nearly 80 ducks have been pulled from the contaminated creek to be treated and housed at the Toronto charity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
A duck is cleaned in a soap bath at the Toronto Wildlife Centre in Toronto on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. After an industrial fire in Etobicoke led to contamination of Mimico Creek, the centre says it has admitted 106 birds for cleaning. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

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