by Marie Wilson
An Inverhuron sheep farmer and entrepreneur believes eight people on his property were “fumigated by noxious substances” during a Bruce Power fire drill exercise held Aug. 29, 2002.
Bruce Power doesn’t believe it’s the likely source of the emission, but says it wants to work with Eugene Bourgeois to resolve his concerns.
Bourgeois wasn’t present during the incident, but the affected parties, who include his son-in-law’s mother, wife and son-in-law and employees, told him they suffered sore throats, headaches and nausea from the exposure. They believe they were exposed to substances used in the test burns being conducted at Bruce Power’s fire training centre that day.
Sheree Kelly, who has worked for Bourgeois for the last 13 years, was present during the incident.
“I was walking from the warehouse to the house when I had this awful taste in my mouth. It was like swallowing a mouthful of diesel fuel. My throat hurt for a couple of hours afterwards,” she said.
Kelly said it was a frightening experience because “of not knowing what the substance was or what it could do to my health.”
Although Bourgeois immediately called the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to the scene, the MOE wasn’t able to form a conclusion about the incident.
“The ministry was not able to confirm the presence of the odor at the complaintiff’s property or the source of its odor with absolute certainty,” said Larry Struthers, an environmental officer with the Owen Sound branch of the MOE, during a May 22 interview.
In the event of a future incident, the ministry will again respond to try to confirm both the identity of the source and the impact of the source, Struthers said.
The MOE also contacted Bruce Power about the incident.
“We talked to Bruce Power and the ministry requested a plan from them to address potential off site impact from the fire training facility,” he said.
Struthers said the plan Bruce Power provided includes routine surveillance during burns and the voluntary suspension of training activities where practical at the fire training facility. In the event of future incidents, Struthers said, a representative of Bruce Power will immediately respond to any off site complaint.
Struthers also said the MOE’s technical support staff is planning to use portable monitoring equipment to measure ground level concentrations during future fire training exercises to measure any impact.
“That is expected to happen this year,” he said.
When asked if the MOE believed the eight individuals when they said they suffered ill effects from the exposure to fumes, Struthers responded “All I can say is that we followed up on the complaint.”
Concerns taken seriously
Bruce Power has investigated the complaint and determined “it’s unlikely to be the source” of the incident on the Bourgeois farm, said Steve Cannon from Bruce Power communications on May 26. However, the company isn’t minimizing the complaint and wishes to do what it can to alleviate Bourgeois’ concerns.
“If he (Bourgeois) has a concern, it’s a concern for us.” Cannon said Bruce Power will be working and communicating directly with Bourgeois to resolve some of the issues. Bourgeois said a meeting has been set for June 11.
Bruce Power will also be setting up monitoring equipment within one kilometre of Bourgeois’ farm to gather quantitative data on wind direction and speed and air samples during burning exercises.
Bourgeois wasn’t notified of the burning exercise last summer, but Cannon said he will be given notice in future, just as they would give notice to any neighbour.
“I am really pleased to hear that,” said Bourgeois May 30. “They haven’t told me that yet.”
A burning exercise was held at the facility recently where over 60 local community volunteer firefighters from municipalities and first nations across Bruce County participated. Fire training is held several times a year for community fire departments, recruits from the Ontario Fire College in Kitchener/Waterloo, Cambridge and both Saugeen and Nawash Fire Departments.
A burning exercise is scheduled for the summer with another in the fall, although the training is subject to changes in schedule, Cannon said.
The burning exercises, where Tekflame gas is ignited, last about 30 minutes.
“We use environmentally friendly products,” said Cannon, commenting that Bruce Power is proud of its environmental record.
In a May 26 letter to Bourgeois, Ross Lamont, manager of Bruce Power Community and Government Relations, reiterated the fact that “Bruce Power has and will continue to work well within all federal, provincial and municipal regulations to ensure safe, environmentally friendly, event-free operation. We take great pride in our environmental record and maintain an ISO 14001 certification.”
When asked why he is coming forward with this story, so long after the August incident, Bourgeois said it took from August until now for him to contact all of the associated parties for a response. He has contacted the boards of directors of Cameco, Transcanada Pipelines and OMERS.
With the exceptimon of OMERS who has yet to respond, Bourgeois said “everyone has expressed confidence in Bruce Power’s managment and declined to be involved. This process has taken from September until now.”
Although both Bruce Power and the MOE have stated they will be collecting data associated with future training exercises, Bourgeois remains skeptical.
He believes the fumigation incident last August is the result of what happens when gasses intersect with local weather phenomena, particularly the Thermal Internal Boundary Layer (TIBL).
A study of the Inverhuron area from Cornell University by Prof. John L. Lumley, May 20, 1992 determined that the TIBL is caused by a warm air mass leaving the lake and travelling over the ground. It forms a rising stream that intensifies as it passes inland because the escarpment to the east acts as a valley wall to intensify the warmth in the valley. It forms a ceiling around the plant especially from May to August.
When gasses are emitted, they rise to the ceiling and are carried down to the ground by the TIBL effect where they drift about in pockets until they are dispersed by air currents.
Bourgeois believes thermal inversion caused the gasses to descend on his farm last August.
The MOE is aware of the TIBL effect and Struthers, when asked if the TIBL could be responsible for whatever dispersed on Bourgeois’ farm last August, said, “potentially it could exist.”
TIBL effect has history
Bourgeois said both the Atomic Energy Control Board (now the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) and Ontario Hydro were aware of the TIBL as far back as the early 70s. Early siting documents that discussed the Bruce site location predicted that fumigation would likely be a problem if a heavy water plant were to be built at the Bruce site.
Siting guidelines for heavy water plants utilizing the Girdler-Sulphide Process, 4.1: The site should be chosen with a very low population density within the zone of influence of the heavy water plant (e.g. typically rural, about 20 to 30 persons per square mile). Population concentrations such as villages, major service and recreational facilities, particularly overnight camping facilities. . . should be avoided. 4.2: The topography, hydrology and meteorology of the area should be such that there are no abnormal conditions which could result in a substantially increased risk in one sector as opposed to the surrounding in general, (e.g. a plant should not be located in a deep valley which would channel a gas release with little dispersion occurring and possible cause a hazard to a populated area which would otherwise have been sufficiently distant as not to be at risk.
Problem has long history
Thus, Bourgeois believes that last August’s incident is simply another in a line of occurrences which date back to the time period from 1985 – 1997, long before the emergence of Bruce Power, back in the days when Ontario Hydro was in charge.
Bourgeois believes emissions of hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide from the flare stacks of the Bruce Heavy Water Plant interacted with the TIBL and descended upon his farm (located 3.6 km south-east of the former BHWP), affecting himself, family members and his animals.
It should be noted Bourgeois won an appeal in 1997 before the Ontario Ministry of Finance Assessment Review Board of his assessment based on the fact that he “did not know of the potential effects of gaseous emissions from the BHWP when he purchased his farm in August 1974.” Given the fact that he didn’t have prior knowledge of such a liability, Bourgeois believed his assessment should be lowered.
He has documented evidence from independent studies (Dr. Misener, Ag Canada, Aug. 10, 1990, epidemiological study by Dr. Michael Slana, University of Guelph, Apr. 28, 1993, a report from Dr. Slana, Aug. 8, 1997), over the years to show his sheep lost their lambs at incredibly high rates (in the 99th percentile) and to show sheep and lambs died at a rate far above the norm.
“Once, half of our flock (25) went blind,” he said. “When Hydro closed the heavy water plant (1997- emissions ceased), my lamb loss rate dropped more than 400 per cent over the next five years.”
Both the MOE and the University of Guelph (MOE, phytotoxicological study by Dr. Emerson, 1995, Dr. Slana, 1993) studied his farm and could find nothing to suggest that his high lamb loss rate and other incidents were due to farming practices or farm conditions at the time, he said.
Bourgeois maintains it was the emissions from the heavy water plant that have affected the health of his family and sheep.
Terry Squires, senior manager of OPG Communications and PUblic Affairs said Bourgeois’ complaints were taken very seriously, but AECB didn’t agree with his claims.
Squire references an AECB final staff report from July 1998 that concluded “the mortality observed in Mr. Bourgeois’ flock is unlikely to have been caused by the emissions from the BHWP. Furthermore, staff also concludes that the emissions from the BHWP are unlikely to have caused long term effects on human health.”
A 1994 report indicated “There is evidence that Mr. Bourgeois’ health and that of his sheep have been affected by something. We have concluded that the concentrations of H2S and SO2 averaged over hours or days are within provincial guidelines and are not at a level at which health effects would be expected.”
Bourgeois isn’t surprised by the conclusions.
“They (AECB) demand absolute certainties when all statements are based on probability and likelihood,” he said. “How do you ever achieve absolute certainties?”
The unlikelihood of ever reaching absolute conclusions when it comes to science leaves Bourgeois questioning future plans by both Bruce Power and the MOE to monitor wind and air data during fire burning exercises.
“How are they going to predict where to stand in order to measure the grayish tendrils of Tekflame gas which fall beneath the TIBL? This changes with each incident and with the weather conditions of the day,” he said.
“There is laser technology available to do this job,” Bourgeois said. “Bruce Power says they will follow up on the information.”
Bourgeois said he simply wants to stop living in fear of being fumigated.
“They (Bruce Power) say they can manage their operation without causing any environmental effects, so do it. They shouldn’t burn if they can’t control the effluent.”
When asked why he continues to stay in Inverhuron, despite the problems with emissions which he believes dates back to 1985, Bourgeois said there are many reasons.
He has built his home, barns and the buildings on his property with his own hands. He has directed his company into an international business with knitting books, videos and all kinds of wool and sweater products worth about $650,000 in combined gross sales annually.
“We’ve been here 30 years. This is my life,” he said.
On a very personal level, Bourgeois believes Inverhuron is a special, almost mystical place, closely connected to his own spirituality where he plans to grow old and live out the remainder of his days.
Marie Wilson is a reporter for the Kincardine News.