Involving Communities in Cleaning Up Contaminated Sites

Contaminated sites should be of concern to communities, government and corporations.

The CN Rail oil spill that occurred on August 3, 2005 at Lake Wabamun in Alberta demonstrated several key “facts” about how communities react to environmental contamination and the associated risks. First, and quite obviously, community members were very upset about the oil spill. Their anger was due in part to the sluggish pace with which CN addressed the spill, and to CN’s inability to identify the risks to their health and disclose this information.

Yet, despite these unknown risks, local residents were wading knee-deep into the oil slick formerly used as a lake to clean up the mess themselves. While such action seems to contract their concern about their health, it speaks volumes about how dedicated citizens are to cleaning up their surroundings.

Private corporations and government agencies have been slow to recognize this commitment. During our assessment of how the federal government has historically handled the cleanup of contaminated sites, we found that the community’s role had typically been quite limited.

Fortunately, the tide appears to be turning. Health Canada recently began offering training to federal staff about how to involve the public in cleanup as part of its Contaminated Sites Program, and there’s a broader commitment to greater public involvement across the federal government. Now if only CN would follow suit…

This blog post was first published by Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited in 2006.


About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit
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