Four months after the Lac-Mégantic train derailment, environmental groups are warning officials of high levels of contaminants found in the nearby Chaudière River. According to Greenpeace Quebec and the Société pour vaincre la pollution (SVP), samples from the water have been found to contain higher-than-acceptable levels of numerous chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which have been found in waterways surrounding the Alberta oil sands and have been linked with cancers found upstream in communities such as Fort Chipewyan.

In late September, Quebec’s environment department lifted a drinking water ban for several communities that rely on the Chaudière’s water supply. The Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet has, however, assured the public that the department is continuing to monitor the safety of the water and that sampling and analyses have not stopped. 

The train that derailed in Lac-Mégantic on July 6 was carrying over seven million litres of crude oil, of which 5.9 million is estimated to have been released into the environment. It remains unclear how much of this oil ended up in the town’s lake and in the Chaudiére River. The environment department has estimated that roughly 100,000 litres likely contaminated the river, but Greenpeace’s Patrick Bonin questions this figure. Following their testing, Greenpeace Quebec and SVP have stated that samples taken 4.7 kilometres downstream from the lake were found to have pollutant levels twenty-seven times higher than what is deemed acceptable. Blanchet has responded by saying that the area the group chose to sample is known to have been highly contaminated, and is therefore not representative of the current condition of the river.

But Rosa Galvez-Cloutier, a decontamination expert from the Université de Laval, has added her voice, pressuring the government to do further testing on toxicity levels. She says that the tests done by SVP and Greenpeace show significant amounts of crude oil, which could have an impact on the river’s ecosystem. 

Daniel Green from the SVP is concerned that future contamination will occur in the spring. He warns that spring flooding could stir up oil located along the riverbed and overflow onto surrounding agricultural lands. 

Environment Canada has also been collecting samples from the site. However, last week a spokesperson stated that the results, “will only be released when appropriate, as investigations are ongoing and all samples collected may become subject to future legal proceedings.”

 The environmental groups are not satisfied and they have been calling on Quebec to release information on what contaminants are in the river and where they have been found in concentrated levels. The groups are also asking for the government to make the work they have done public information.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Bonin said. 

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