Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Homes Not Safe: Alberta Premier Says Return to Fort McMurray Delayed for Some

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Homes Not Safe: Alberta Premier Says Return to Fort McMurray Delayed for Some

Article excerpt

Return to Fort McMurray delayed for some

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EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says concerns about environmental contamination will delay the return of up to 2,000 evacuees expecting to move back to their homes in fire-damaged Fort McMurray until as late as September.

Re-entering the scarred community is to proceed this week for most residents as previously announced. But Notley said Monday that more than 500 homes and about a dozen apartment complexes that escaped a wildfire earlier this month in three otherwise heavily damaged neighbourhoods are not safe to be lived in yet.

She said that conclusion was reached with health experts following tests that found ash tainted with toxic heavy metals and carcinogens such dioxins and furans.

"It was determined that the volume of what we've just described was sufficient that those intact homes were not safe until that kind of waste was removed," Notley said. "It means that people who live in those neighbourhoods should not plan to return permanently on June 4 as originally planned."

The U.S. Geological Survey found ash left after California's home-destroying wildfires in 2007 and 2008 was far more alkaline than ash from wood fires. Mixed with water, the ash was almost as caustic as oven cleaner.

It was also significantly contaminated with metals, some of them toxic. Arsenic, lead, antimony, copper, zinc and chromium were all found at levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

As well, ash particles from urban-wildfire blazes tended to be smaller and more easily inhaled. Both arsenic and hexavalent chromium -- a form of the metal known to cause lung cancer -- were more readily taken up by lung fluids than they were in water.

Arrangements will be made for people from the affected homes in Fort McMurray to make a one-time visit.

"We believe it will be possible to arrange for these residents to temporarily return to inspect their residences and retrieve their belongings," Notley said. …

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