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Queen's University

Analytical Services Unit

Environmental Projects

The Analytical Services Unit has worked on a wide variety of environmental projects. Current work is associated with the cleanup of former military bases in the Canadian Arctic. Work at these sites has involved environmental assessments, development of cleanup remediation proposals, project management, establishing on-site procedures and solving problems unique to specific sites. Highlights of this work are given below.

  • At Iqaluit, Nunavut, the ASU provided all scientific and engineering services for the complete cleanup of the former military base: methodology for the removal of PCB-contaminated concrete floors was developed.
  • At Resolution Island, Nunavut, barriers were designed and constructed in PCB leachate pathways.
  • Excavation of a landfill in permafrost was carried out at the former DEW Line site at Sarcpa Lake.
  • Cathodic protection of concrete in bridge structures.
  • Nutrient cycling in fast growing hybrid poplars.
  • Research into PCBs destruction using Fentons reagent was conducted in the laboratory and in the Arctic.

Sampling and analysis of the contents of over 2000 barrels for DIAND and DND.

Polar bear in camp

Amongst the problems associated with this type of work is the presence of unwanted visitors! Polar bears are common in some areas and must be treated with respect.

At Iqaluit, Nunavut, the ASU provided all the scientific and engineering services for the complete cleanup of the large former military base. This was the first cleanup of a military base in the north associated with the DEW Line and as such many problems had to be solved. These ranged from developing the methodology for delineating contaminated areas, excavation procedures, contaminated soil containerisation, asbestos abatement, landfill design and construction, delineation and removal of PCB-contaminated floors, and liaison with government, industry and Inuit organizations.

Contaminated concrete

The initial environmental assessment was conducted with the Environmental Science Group at RMC, the engineering work was carried out with UMA Engineering in Edmonton and the whole project supported by Scott Mitchell from the Yellowknife office, Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada.

At the former DEW Line site at Sarcpa Lake the main work involved the excavation of a landfill. In addition a complete assessment of the site was carried out, all asbestos was containerised, and an engineering design, drawings, specifications and cost estimates were produced in association with UMA Engineering.

The excavation of the landfill was undertaken because PCBs were found to be leaching from it. This was, to our knowledge, the first time a dump has been excavated from permafrost and this posed several problems. One major one was that the site was difficult to access and no heavy machinery was available. A small Kubota loader was taken to the site overland on a winter road but could not be used for excavation because of the steep terrain and wet muddy conditions that prevail when permafrost is uncovered. The loader was however, extremely useful in moving containers of contaminated soil and also water for the camp. Excavation and sorting of the dump was undertaken by hand. The delineation procedure undertaken at this site was to grid the area (3m by 3m) and analyse each quadrant as material was removed.

Scarpa dump

When permafrost was reached, time was required for the ice to melt and so the project required two seasons; work is only possible during July and August. PCB Immunoassay test kits and a portable XRF unit were used on site for analysis with confirmation of samples back at the Queen's ASU laboratory.

At Resolution Island, Nunavut, a large quantity of PCBs were found to be present at the site in 1993. From 1994 to 1996, work was conducted by the ASU to stabilize the situation. PCB liquids were removed from transformers and safely stored, capacitors were containerised, barriers were designed and constructed in PCB leachate pathways on the land, the whole area was delineated for PCBs and metals and the contents of many barrels were analysed. Since 1997, cleanup of the site has started and is now being managed by the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation, an Inuit company from Iqaluit.

Ice Storm

The weather on Resolution Island often affects the cleanup operation. In 1999 a severe ice storm halted excavation for 5 days. The helicopter and heavy machinery were immobilized.

Mobile Lab

In 2000, a mobile laboratory unit was designed, equipped and taken to the island. The 45ft module contains a GC/ECD for PCB and TPH analysis, a fume-hood for safe chemical handling, gas generators for the GC, vacuum and water chiller units for the rotary evaporator, a shaker unit and associated glassware and solvents, and a whole variety of sampling and safety equipment related to working at a contaminated site.

The ASU is able to provide a quick analysis time turnaround time with the mobile laboratory and can use the back up of immunoassay test kits or, when results are required immediately. In addition, sub-samples are routinely sent back to the laboratory in Kingston, again as a back-up procedure and for QA/QC.

Barrel testing

Barrel testing is a large part of the work at a typical site. Many sites have thousands of barrels scattered over a large area. The composition of their contents is generally mixtures of fuel, lubricating oil and grease and water and glycol. Some contain unusual antifreeze compounds and degreasers and some are contaminated with PCBs and metals. A protocol (the DEW Line Clean Up Protocol for Barrels) was developed by the ASU for use at all DEW Line sites.

ASU personnel have been involved in researching the various ways of treating PCB contaminated soil. Research has been conducted into PCBs destruction using Fentons reagent both in the laboratory and in the Arctic. Two processes, thermal desorption and solvent extraction, were assessed by the ASU for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada by analysing products in trials carried out by companies hoping to use their equipment at Resolution Island. The ASU was also heavily involved in the production of an Environmental Impact Statement as part of the approvals mechanism for disposing of the PCB contaminated soils required by the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NIRB).

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000