In August 2005 a set of circumstance sunfolded into a nightmare for a residential area in the City of Cambridge that came to be known as the Bishop Street Community. As the tenth anniversary passed in silence, little if any mention is made of what transpired. For those most deeply affected, 2005 will go down in the hearts and minds as one of the most painful, yet eye-opening experiences of their lives.
What started off as an environmental assessment of the property Northstar Aerospace planned to sell soon led to the discovery of a historical chemical spill that had been leeching contaminants off site via the groundwater for approximately forty years. And what was even more disturbing was that it had been spreading throughout a residential neighborhood.
By now the City, Region, Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health were all actively involved as well as Environmental and Remediation companies. There was serious cause for concern when dangerously high levels of Trichlorethylene (TCE) and Hexavalent Chromium (Hex6) were found in some of the homes tested. The very same that gave way to fame in Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action.
Families with the highest levels of these chemicals were uprooted to stay in hotels while remediation work was done. Those with lower levels were allowed to stay in their homes which would still be monitored for any changes.
A Citizen’s committee was formed and regular information sessions held between Northstar, authorities and the residents to keep information flowing and the lines of communication open. The company also sent out a monthly newsletter detailing action and steps being taken to resolve the issue.
Some residents took a proactive approach and searched the internet and asked questions to educate themselves to have a better understanding as to what they were dealing with. But like anything out there via the net, you should be careful where you search and not always believe everything you see and read.
Whether it was the taxing of nerves or the uncertainty of the future, cooler heads did not prevail and with inconvenience , lack of trust or whatever else, communication broke down, lawyers were hired and lawsuits were filed.
During the initial period of discovery many homes were quickly sold out of fear of the unknown. Now with lawsuits pending and the law changing, a Class Action suit for 210 million dollars was filed on behalf of all those affected and involved. Sadly, where money is involved, “we” can quickly change to all about “me”.
As the remediation work continued to resolve the problem, the number of affected homes rose to almost five hundred, the promise of “total clean-up within three years” soon became “doubtful if ever”.
Then the recession happened and Northstar made an offer to settle for 5 million dollars. The lawyers advised that it be accepted much to the disappointment of many. Partial payment would immediately happen to cover legal expenses incurred by the lawyers and some compensation split among the residents. The balance plus interest would be due in three years.
Just week before the final payout, Northstar filed for Consumer Protection, adding further insult to injury, and that was the end of that.
The remediation continues funded solely by the Government thanks to the taxpayer and for most of the families still there, life goes on. Some have the constant reminder due to the equipment in the home and the shed in the backyard that deals with the toxins that still try to invade their lives.
Last, but not least, a few will continue to give voice as advocates to the silent toxins in our food, water and the environment. And to adamantly say “the only acceptable level is ZERO”.Tags: Bishop Street Community, Class Action, Consumer Protection, Hexavalent Chromium Hex6, home, Northstar Aerospace, voice, water, work