Testing at former landfill sites - Q&As

Prior to 1972, The City of Red Deer operated a number of small landfills throughout the city, and in many cases, the city has grown and developed around these former landfill sites. Within the last year, The City completed the first stage of a project that involved the testing of nine former landfill sites that the city owned and operated in Red Deer. This testing aimed to help The City better understand the potential impacts of former landfills on the environment and nearby properties. Based on the results, more testing is now needed on eight of the nine sites as it was determined that one of the initial testing sites was not, in fact, a landfill. Initial test results at the other eight sites showed some landfill related impacts, but at this time, no mitigation measures are required in advance of further testing. The second stage of testing will get underway as early as April 20.

Questions and Answers

Why did The City initiate the testing of former landfill sites?

There are many sites in Red Deer that were once used to dump garbage. As the city grows we see more development taking place near these sites; therefore, The City of Red Deer initiated a project to assess former landfill sites in an effort to better understand the impacts and risks associated with (re)development near them. The project was a proactive City driven initiative that will enable us to make sound and timely decisions about (re)development near former landfills with the best and most current information possible. There were no regulatory requirements to do the project.

Is it common practice to develop near former landfill sites?

Yes. Development near former landfill sites has taken place in Red Deer and communities across Alberta with the province responsible for the regulations that dictate where people can develop in relation to landfills.

However, the regulations have changed over time. Prior to 1978 there were no development regulations that dictated setback distances when homes were constructed around existing landfill sites. In 1978, the province implemented regulations that required a 300 metre setback for homes from landfills; however, this technically only applied to operating landfill sites. In 1995, the regulations were clarified to include a 300 metre setback from inactive or closed landfill sites.

Are there any risks associated with building/developing near a former landfill site?

Potential risks with development in the vicinity of former landfill sites depend on a variety of factors, which include landfilling practices, age of the waste, type of waste, soils surrounding the waste and distance from the landfill.

With improvements in science and technology, we know more about the potential effects of buried waste on the environment and people’s health than we did 50 years ago. Knowledge about the potential risks associated with landfills has evolved over time.

Two potential risks associated with closed landfills include:

Contamination of groundwater by various chemicals present in buried waste
Contaminants from former landfill sites can leach into groundwater; however, this is generally not a health concern for properties connected to City water. For those properties not connected to City water, the risk management report for those specific areas examined factors like direction of groundwater flow to determine if there is potential risk to well water.

Generation of landfill gas
As landfill materials decompose, landfill gas can be created and may migrate through the soil to collect in confined spaces, like basements. Methane is one of the primary components of landfill gas, and can pose an explosion risk at certain concentrations. Landfill gas can also contain various other trace gases, which have the potential to cause health impacts.

Testing for groundwater contamination and landfill gas was completed as part of the initial investigation. Based on initial results, mitigation measures are not recommended at this time. However, further testing will be done to build upon these results, and if landfill gas or groundwater impacts in concentrations of concern are found, there are measures that can be put in place to manage the impacts associated with both.

What kind of testing did The City conduct on the former landfill sites?

Investigation of the nine former landfill sites was conducted in a multi-stage approach:

Phase I: Environmental Site Assessment
Available information about each of the former landfill sites was reviewed and compiled, including landfilling practices, age of the waste, soils surrounding the waste, and type of developments and distance from the landfill (setbacks). To view these documents, visit the Landfill Risk Assessment Project page.

Phase II: Environmental Site Assessment
A physical investigation of the former landfill sites was conducted to determine the boundaries of waste disposal and collect samples of soil gas and groundwater.  To view these documents, visit the Landfill Risk Assessment Project page.

Environmental Risk Management Plan
The data collected during the Phase I and II environmental site assessments was analyzed, and site specific risk management plans were developed. This data was also used to make recommendations on appropriate setback distances from each landfill site.  To view these documents, visit the Landfill Risk Assessment Project page.

The Phase I and II environmental site assessments were completed in accordance with the Canadian Standards Association’s standards governing these types of reports. The Environmental Risk Management Plan was completed using Health Canada’s preliminary quantitative risk assessment model, which is a nationally accepted process for risk assessment.

Where are the former landfill sites that require further testing located?

Further groundwater and soil gas sampling will be conducted at the following sites (click on the links to view maps):

 Indoor air quality testing is needed within a sampling of homes near the following site:

  • Montfort (pdf) (to determine if there is any potential for impact to the indoor air quality of the homes located near this site)
Why is further testing being undertaken?

Further testing is needed so that we can build upon the information we collected during the first stage of the project and ensure there are no changes or upgrades needed to mitigate risk near the former landfill site in your area.

Conditions in the groundwater and soil can change with the seasons as temperatures go up and down throughout the year; therefore, further testing is needed to build upon initial results and make decisions about development near former landfill sites today and in the future. This second stage of testing is necessary to understand any potential impacts to people’s health and safety as well as the environment.

Is my health at risk?

At this time, we have no direct evidence that indicates the health and safety of nearby residents is impacted by landfill gas or groundwater contamination from the eight former landfill sites in Red Deer. However, we do know that in some cases, landfill gases can migrate through soil and collect in confined spaces. For this reason, The City will conduct further testing of the former landfill sites as well as indoor air quality monitoring of some residential properties adjacent to one of the former landfill sites - the Montfort (pdf) site, which is located in Highland Green.

While testing focuses on understanding potential environmental impacts, in-home air quality monitoring at the Montfort location is necessary because of its proximity to the former landfill site. This testing will help us determine if there are any health or safety impacts.

Contaminated groundwater and landfill gas can pose potential environmental, health and safety concerns as they are known to contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are both naturally occurring and man-made. They can be caused by the breakdown of buried waste and are also found within a number of household chemicals we use every day.

The safety and wellbeing of residents is The City’s first priority. We will continue to work with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Environment to review initial results and conduct further testing that builds upon these results.

When will we have the results?

In the case of the former Montfort (pdf) landfill site, located in Highland Green, The City will initiate the in-home air quality sampling test within the next two weeks. Initial results will be shared with citizens as soon as possible when in-home air quality tests are completed.

The groundwater and soil gas sampling that will take place is expected to get underway this summer. Because we are collecting seasonal data, it may take up to 24 months before The City of Red Deer has enough data to fully understand the potential impacts of all the former landfill sites. Test results will be shared with citizens as soon as possible.

What will The City do if they detect landfill gas or groundwater contamination when further testing is conducted?

There are a variety of options, some simple and some complex, when it comes to mitigating the impacts and risks associated with landfill gas or groundwater contamination. If we find landfill gas or groundwater impacts in concentrations of concern, there are measures that can be put in place to manage the impacts associated with both. The City will work directly with residents to facilitate a plan and address the issue. The health and safety of citizens is our first priority.

Will it affect my property value?

There are a number of factors upon which property values are determined including the quality, size, features and age of your home, to name a few. However, the Municipal Government Act dictates how all assessments are legislatively required to be done in the province of Alberta. The valuation standard for residential assessments is market value but must be prepared using mass appraisal principles, which refers to the process of calculating assessed value for an entire group or groups of residential properties as of a specific date based on standardization and statistical testing versus individual appraisals on properties at different times. This project is about protecting property, people and the environment.

Is Alberta Environment and Alberta Health Services Involved?

Yes. The City of Red Deer is working with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Environment as we implement further testing and continue to review the data we already have.

Alberta Environment supports the process The City undertook to assess risk related to former landfill sites, and Alberta Health Services is currently reviewing the full reports to gain a better understanding of potential health impacts. Alberta Health Services and Alberta Environment will continue to be involved as we carry out further testing over the next 24 months.

How does this affect my ability to redevelop or subdivide my property?

Applications for subdivision or development permits are subject to the current regulations regarding setbacks from landfill sites. In the case of the former Montfort (pdf) landfill site as well as the former Red Deer College and Red Deer Motors (pdf)  sites, initial recommendations call for mitigation measures if (re)development takes place within 300 metres of the site. However, with further testing planned for each of the sites, these requirements would be addressed on a case by case basis.

If you are planning to subdivide or apply for a development permit for your property, please contact The City for guidance on the processes that may be required.

Where can I find out more?

More information and the full technical report, which contains initial test results, can be found on the Landfill Risk Assessment Project page. You can also contact The City’s landfill risk assessment phone line at 403-406-8716 if you have any additional questions or concerns.

For more information: 

Tim Ainscough, P. Eng.
Environmental Services Manager