Transport Minister Denis Lebel has turned down Hamilton’s request for help cleaning up historic airport pollution that happened on the federal government’s watch.

The city and airport operator TradePort are studying the extent of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) contamination at the facility, where firefighting foam containing the chemical was used in training 30 years ago.

Council has balked at paying the estimated $2-million remediation cost because the airport was owned by Transport Canada in the 1980s. The city formally asked the federal government last year for cleanup cash and old firefighting training records.

Transport Canada officials have repeatedly said the federal government is not responsible for the chemical because PFOS was not identified as a “contaminant of concern” when the airport was transferred to the Region of Hamilton-Wentworth in 1996.

OPINION: Federal foot-dragging on an airport cleanup

The minister made it official in a new letter to the city, arguing Hamilton accepted the airport lands “as is” in 1996. Lebel wrote the federal government “fulfilled its obligations” by conducting an environmental baseline study prior to the airport transfer, even though PFOS was not identified as a chemical of concern until 1999.

The minister also suggested the city should file a formal Freedom of Information request if it wants federal records of firefighting training activities at the airport.

Transport Canada ran a regional firefighting training centre at the airport in the 1980s and early 1990s. A retired federal firefighting trainer has told The Spectator up to 15,000 litres of foam was sprayed every year on the old airport training pad.

The letter will be on the agenda for an upcoming committee meeting.

But Tuesday, Councillor Sam Merulla called the federal response an example of “downloading” of inappropriate costs onto local property taxpayers. He added council may also consider litigation and a request to the provincial Ministry of the Environment to order Transport Canada participation.

The province has already said it expects the city and federal government to contribute to a study of PFOS contamination downstream of the airport.

Local MOE spokesperson Jennifer Hall said federal officials have agreed to meet and discuss the matter Aug. 9.

High levels of PFOS have been found in Welland River fish 100 kilometres downstream of the airport, spurring consumption advisories. Low-level pollution has also showed up in sediment tests in Lake Niapenco.

A consultant’s report on the extent of contamination at the airport is supposed to be submitted to the MOE in early August.

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