Race to clean up the Don

Old Leaside airfield fuel tank ruptures; leaks into the river

Cleanup efforts were ongoing more than a week after a mixture of mineral oils, kerosene and aviation fuel spilled into the Don River from a long-forgotten fuel tank.

“We’re continuing to monitor the cleanup effort,” said Kate Jordan, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. “Soil tests in the area have confirmed the presence of furnace oil and diesel fuel, so that will still have to be addressed.”

The spill happened Aug. 15. In the course of excavating land to build a parking lot near Eglinton Avenue East and Laird Drive, workers had ruptured the forgotten tank, but determined it wasn’t leaking.

That night, heavy rains forced the tank’s contents to escape.

“It looks like some water from the rain got into the ruptured tank and displaced the fuel that was in there,” said Mike Strapko of Toronto Fire Services. “The fuel eventually got into the storm sewers and worked its way into the Don River. A cyclist saw or smelled something and called 911 from a pay phone. We went there and traced it back to the excavation site.”

Toronto Fire worked with the construction crew to move earth around the leaking container to try and dike the flow. Tubular booms were also set up in the river to contain the spill from Eglinton and Leslie to Keating Channel.

The same night, the construction company dispatched a truck to drain the remnants of the tank.

Strapko could not say how much fuel leaked into the river, but said it would have been worse had it gone undetected.

“By it being reported early and the effort of multiple agencies, we believe we significantly reduced the amount that could have leaked out,” Strapko said.

Although the spill caused alarm, health officials assured it poses no threat to residents.

“It was contained on site. We have no health concerns,” said Susan Sperling of Toronto Public Health.

Neither the federal or provincial governments could comment on what impact the spill may have had on fish or other wildlife in the area. It’s still unclear who owns the tank or why it was never removed.

By all accounts, it appears to be a remnant of the Leaside Aerodome, an old air base built by the federal government during WWI.

It appears such relics are not common in Toronto.

“I don’t remember (a tank) like that in my 25 year history,” said Strapko.

“This thing been around a lot longer than many of the ‘older’ tanks that have been replaced at gas stations around the city in recent years.”

Jordan said no target date had been set for the completion of the cleanup effort.


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By: Joshua Freeman
Posted: Sep 2 2010 4:28 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto
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