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Environment and Occupational Issues - Brownfields – Contaminated Urban Areas in Ontario

Brownfields, are properties left contaminated by former usage which are regulated by the Ontario Ministry of Environment. Examples of Brownfield sites include:  gas stations, closed factories and commercial waterfront port operations.  Unmanaged, Brownfields may pose risks to the environment and human health because of potential contaminants that may be found in the soil and groundwater as a result of past activities at the site.

Brownfields are lands on which industrial or commercial activity took place in the past and are now contaminated with the toxic legacy of their historical uses. The level of contamination can vary greatly from site to site. Most sites require clean up before redevelopment. These properties are often situated in key areas within a community, such as the downtown or along the waterfront and are monetarily, culturally and socially valuable.  People can become exposed to contaminants at Brownfield sites by direct contact through between soil and skin, from ingesting soil, dust, or vegetables grown in the contaminated soil, or from drinking ground water that has become contaminated.  Direct soil ingestion and absorption through skin is of particular concern for children. Site contaminants can migrate through soil or ground water as a gas into the home or into workplaces basements, concentrating in indoor air. Contaminants can also be transported through rain water as it washes though the soil, and may end up in ground water used as drinking water or may flow into lakes and streams affecting plant and animal life. Plants, animals and birds may be exposed through contact through contact or ingestion of contaminated soil, consumption food or prey, or drinking contaminated water.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) amended the current regulation governing Brownfield regulation. The proposed amendment to O. Reg. 153/04 was based on a number of key guiding principles. The updated standards came into effect July 1, 2011. Many of the revised standards are now more stringent than the previous standards.

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Contributors:  Megan McGarrity

Last Reviewed:  July 6, 2012

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