February 16, 2004

Municipality sues over TCE pollution in local groundwater, drinking water supply

The municipality of Shannon, Quebec is suing the federal government, SNC Lavalin, Groupe SNC Lavalin and SNC Technologies in connection with contamination of the municipality's groundwater and drinking water by trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical once commonly used as an industrial cleansing solvent.

A suit filed with the Quebec Superior Court seeks, in part, $41.3 million for the extension of the water distribution system and the establishment of a new source of water for the municipality and $15 million in punitive damages. The municipality is also seeking a permanent injunction ordering the defendants to stop the contamination in the municipality and an order to proceed with the decontamination.

At the same time, Shannon resident Marie-Paule Spieser has filed a motion with the Quebec Superior Court seeking leave to launch a class action suit against the same four defendants connection with the TCE contamination of the municipality's groundwater. Spieser is claiming $165,000 in damages, including $100,000 in punitive damages.

The proposed action is action on behalf of everyone who resides or has resided in the municipality of Shannon since 1953 and who has suffered damages due to the presence of noxious substances, including TCE, in the municipality's groundwater as a result of the defendants' actions. Approximately 2,000 individuals are included in this group.

The situation dates back to 1997 when the Department of National Defence (DND) discovered higher than acceptable levels of TCE in the aquifer under the Valcartier garrison at the Defence R&D Canada-Valcartier property. DND undertook an environmental investigation at that time to ensure the health and well-being of the residents and employees in the Valcartier area. The department also informed the concerned parties and has been conducting regular consultation since then.

In December 2000, DND learned that higher than acceptable levels of TCE were present in some private wells in Shannon, bordering the Canadian Forces Valcartier garrison. As a short-term solution, the federal government paid to have affected homes in Shannon connected to the garrison's extended water supply system. The garrison water supply meets all federal and provincial drinking water guidelines. Water for the entire Valcartier area is now drawn solely from wells which are closely monitored for the presence of TCE.

Since 1997, two major independent studies have been carried out to gain a better understanding of the contamination distribution pattern and to find the possible sources. The investigations found sources of TCE in the groundwater at Defence R&D Canada-Valcartier, and on an adjacent property belonging to SNC Technologies.

Meanwhile, DND is continuing to monitor the presence and movement of TCE on its property and report the findings to the residents of Shannon. DND and the local Garrison are committed to working with all affected parties in order to address this matter co-operatively and fairly and to find long-term solutions.

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