ALBERTON – Environment Canada plans to allow a West Prince farm operation to test the fumigant chloropicrin on a small test plot in Ascension this year to determine whether the fumigant poses any threat to groundwater.
The decision to test the chemical follows an application by Alberton-based Westech Agriculture to use chloropicrin on its strawberry fields in place of the fumigant methyl bromide (MB), which, in accordance with the Montreal Protocol, has been prohibited in Canada under the Ozone-depleting Substances Regulations, since 2005.
An Environment Canada official said, because of no technically and economically feasible alternatives to MB for growers, Canada requested an exemption under the Montreal Protocol, yet remains committed to phasing it out.
Reached at the farm Friday, Westech Agriculture owner, Nora Dorgan, said the farm simply made application to use chloropicrin, that the actual testing is being conducted by Environment Canada.
The provincial Department of Environment is permitting the federal department to test the product on a small plot of strawberry plants.
“We saw that it is used in other parts of Canada, so we put an application in,” Dorgan said of the farm’s application to use chloropicrin. “What the powers that be decide beyond that is beyond my control.”
According to Environment Canada, the application of chloropicrin will be done in accordance with the product label. The area to be fumigated during the test will not exceed five acres.
Monitoring wells and lysimeters will be installed in order to collect groundwater and surface water samples, respectively, and samples will be tested by accredited laboratories in accordance with approved testing standards, an Environment Canada official confirmed.
The official indicated chloropicrin has been used in combination with other active ingredients since at least 2005.
Westech Agriculture did have an incident involving the use of a fumigant in 2001. Water testing by the P.E.I. Department of Environment at that time found four wells to be contaminated with dichloropropene, an active ingredient in the fumigant Telone C-17. The Province subsequently covered the cost of installing a small water system to supply five homes in town.
Mayor Michael Murphy expressed surprise that no one from either Environment departments contacted the town with regard to testing of chloropicrin, indicating he learned about it through a newspaper story.
“We are waiting for more information on when it’s going to happen, where it’s going to happen, but we will be voicing our concerns and asking questions about it,” he said.
He questioned the common sense in putting a fumigant in the ground to see if it will go into the water table.
“If it does go into the water table, what steps are they going to take to keep it from going any farther, and how are they going to get it back out of the water table?” he wondered.
Wayne MacKinnon with the P.E.I. Department of Environment pointed out the test will not be taking place anywhere near Alberton.
“It’s on Westech land that is away, quite far, from any residences,” he said.