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May 01, 2019

Cleaning up a Port Hope Beach

Very well used as a site for the placement of historical low-level radioactive waste in the 1930s to 50s, the area endearingly referred to as the West Beach is now being cleaned up as part of the Port Hope Project, under the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI).

The waste in that area is contaminated soil – a result of the past refining practices during the processing of radium and uranium by El Dorado Nuclear Limited, a former federal Crown corporation. The brain child of the LaBine brothers – Charles and Gilbert, El Dorado processed pitchblende ore mined in the Northwest Territories turning it into radium.  It was a feat that launched Canada into the Atomic Age and even prompted a 1970s billboard exclaiming Port Hope as “the town that radiates friendliness”.  At the time, radium was in great demand and used quite liberally in many products of the day, from hand soap to enhanced radioactive water – it was seen as the magic cure-all.

The process required one tonne of ore and ten tonnes of chemicals to form one gram of radium and left behind soil contaminated with arsenic, uranium and radium -226. With little storage space at their harbour front site, El Dorado looked for other spots around town to store what they thought was just dirt. The beach area to the west of the site was targeted for fill to be placed there, which many thought was a good practice for the marshy terrain.

In the early 2000s, a large amount of the soil that had been placed there was removed to facilitate the building of the town’s new water treatment plant. That soil was then stored under tarps at the Centre Pier and has since been relocated to the Port Hope Long-Term Waste Management facility for storage and safe management.

The remainder of the West Beach area is being cleaned up in two work packages – the first being the area east of the water treatment plant, currently underway. The second phase of the cleanup will be the west section of the beach, including the playground and beach front area in the next few years.

As part of the environmental commitment of the PHAI, protecting endangered and at-risk species will be a priority while work is being performed.  From sea rockets to monarch butterflies, CNL is committed to protecting identified plants and animals.

Plans are currently being made by the Municipality of Port Hope for the future of the beach after the completion of this long-anticipated cleanup in the town.  The PHAI offers a solution to this environmental problem and creates a legacy for generations to come.

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