Untested sediment dumped near Hanlan’s Point Beach without public consultation

Some are questioning what's in the sand near Hanlan's Point after the city dumped sediment that wasn't specifically tested. Quintin Bignell asks an expert what toxins could be lurking in the pile just steps from the beach.

By Quintin Bignell

What is in the sand at Hanlan’s Point? Ahead of the summer season when people flock to the beach, that’s the question some are asking after the City of Toronto dumped a large amount of sediment over Labour Day weekend without testing it for toxins or consulting the public.

The sediment, which is mixture of sand, dirt and rocks, is from the bottom of Lake Ontario. According to the Manager of Stakeholder Relations and Issues Management for the City, Jane Arbour, there is no requirement to test the sand for this use.

The city said the sediment comes from the Enwave construction project, which uses lake water to cool massive buildings in Toronto, including Scotiabank Arena. To do this, deep tunnels have been dug out beneath the lake and some of that dirt is being re-purposed.

“They utilized that sand in order to make two access points, specifically at Hanlan’s Beach, more accessible, to address erosion and improve safety,” said Donna Kovachis, director of Parks, Forestry and Recreation with the City of Toronto.

City staff said a second dumping was done a couple weeks after Labour Day.

During unrelated dune restoration work at the islands’ Gibraltar Point, the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) confirms they accepted a small amount of sediment in 2021, “from a specific component of the Enwave project.”

“This material was fully tested and met all parkland guidelines and all works were completed with all the appropriate approvals and permits. It was approximately 3,600 m3 of clean sand that was used in the early staging to which 90,000 m3 of purchased sand was barged to the island to complete the project,” a spokesperson told CityNews in a statement.

The TRCA added it was not involved in the dumping of these materials at Hanlan’s Point: “TRCA was not consulted on this work or engaged in the communication.”

However, city staff say there was no need to test the sediment for toxic chemicals as they had been assured by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority that it was safe to use.

David McIntosh has spent the past 20 years visiting the island during the summer. He was in the water off Hanlan’s as crews dumped sediment. “It came as a complete surprise,” said McIntosh.

“As a long-time user of this space, I think that we, at the very least, deserve to be notified that something is happening and have a response to this,” said McIntosh. “It’s not dune restoration at any level. It’s the dumping of construction materials for another project on the sand dunes.”

CityNews received photos of the area from early February.

“When we’re moving things around, things that you don’t want come with it, micro-organisms for example, and toxic chemicals,” said ecologist and York University Professor Dawn Bazely.

Bazely said Toronto has a history of industrialism, producing contaminants known to sink to the lake floor.

“Nothing is pristine … there are microplastics in the Arctic,” noted Bazely. “We need to be screening what’s there and we need to be making sure that we are not putting sources of these potential contaminants out there. We need to test things.”

She added: “the gold standard for me would be that we would absolutely know what’s in it.”

Part of the Toronto Islands fall under Councillor Ausma Malik’s riding. Malik tells CityNews she believes steps should have been taken before shovels hit the ground.

“We have to make sure that there’s clear communication, that there’s notice, that the right parameters are set up so it can be done safely, and in a way that anyone who is visiting there knows whats happening on the island,” said Malik.

“As far as we understand, the assessment was made that the materials were safe enough,” added Malik.

The city said the public wasn’t consulted as this was a one-off project.

They tell CityNews there are no further plans to improve the dunes near Hanlan’s Point ahead of this summer, outside of yearly maintenance, and that consultations on the master plan for the Toronto Island are ongoing.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today