March 14, 2005

Ministry invites response to findings of Sound-Sorb review

The Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) is inviting comment on a newly-released report by an expert panel established last February to review available information on Sound-Sorb, a material made partly from paper recycling waste. The 90-day comment period runs to May 26, 2005. This report, along with any comments received, will be taken into account by the MOE in making future decisions about the management of this waste, known as paper fibre biosolids (PFB).

The review was carried out to determine whether Sound-Sorb poses any significant risks to the environment or human health when used for its intended purpose, i.e. the construction of berms for noise and bullet attenuation at gun clubs in Ontario. Because of the materials used to make Sound-Sorb, public concerns were raised about the potential risks linked to its use.

Most of the PFB used to make Sound-Sorb comes from Atlantic Packaging, a paper recycling company in Toronto. The firm provides PFB from its recycling process to Courtice Auto Wreckers, which mixes it with mineral soil to produce Sound-Sorb. Because both the PFB from the process and the Sound-Sorb end product meet the exemption requirement in Ontario's waste management regulation (O Reg 347, section 3(2)1), they are not subject to the regulation.

A technical review by the MOE of the use of Sound-Sorb indicated no adverse environmental impact associated with its use as berm material, although it did raise concerns about the use of large quantities of the product in certain berm applications, e.g. near watercourses.

The expert panel review addressed three specific questions, starting with whether Sound-Sorb poses an environmental or human health risk and the nature of such a risk. Based on the available data, the panel could not come to a conclusion on all of the possible risks, but did believe that the bulk use of PFB in berms could be managed so as to minimize any such risks.

The report concludes that with proper regulatory control, Sound-Sorb could be used to build berms without posing an unacceptable risk to the environment or human health. Therefore, it says, there is no need to ban the use of Sound-Sorb for this purpose.

The second question addressed by the expert panel centred on the degree of risk posed and what management measures could be implemented to eliminate or minimize the risks. The panel indicated its belief that anaerobic decomposition of the PFB in Sound-Sorb could potentially create an acidic leachate. Also, because of the historical use of lead at gun club sites, there is a possible risk of lead mobilization in the soil beneath the berms. Finally, the high level of organic material in the berms poses a potential risk of elevated biological oxygen demand (BOD) in surface water receptors at sensitive sites.

Accordingly, the panel did not recommend removing the berm at the Oshawa Skeet and Gun Club (OSGC, a focal point of the review) provided long-term groundwater monitoring continues. It did recommend, however, that existing berms at other gun clubs undergo a hydrogeological assessment and that monitoring regimes be established. A site-specific risk assessement (SSRA) should also be done if the hydrogeological assessment indicates the need for one, adds the report. Finally, the panel called for composting of PFB before it is used for constructing a berm.

Responding to the third question, concerning conditions under which the use of Sound-Sorb should be limited or prohibited, the panel concluded that Sound-Sorb should not be used in an uncontrolled manner as an exempt waste as is now the case. The PFB used to produce it is a waste whose bulk use in the environment, even after composting, should be under regulatory control. Consequently, the panel has recommended that PFB-alone or mixed with mineral soil-should be controlled by certificates of approval or other legal instrument providing equal or better protection of the environment and human health.

The report, linked to the information notice posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights registry, may be viewed on-line at www.ene.gov.on.ca (registry reference No XA05E0005).

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