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It’s not snowing in July in Sudbury, Ont., but it seems to be, and homeowners are fed up | CBC News


Shannon Mikus was surprised to see what looked like snow falling in her backyard — in the middle of July.

Upon closer inspection, Mikus saw they were small bits of expanded polystyrene foam, which is closely related to and resembles Styrofoam.

Mikus and her neighbours, who are on a quiet residential street in the Minnow Lake neighbourhood of Sudbury, Ont., say a nearby construction project has rained down the material, covering yards and getting into pools and even inside their homes.

“My youngest is eight months old and I haven’t been able to play with him at all in my yard for probably two weeks now because there’s Styrofoam pieces everywhere,” Mikus said, adding she’s concerned the bits could end up in his mouth.

For more than two years, the Bawa Hospitality Group has been building a seven-storey, 137-unit seniors’ residence on Second Avenue North, on a property that overlooks Mikus’s backyard.

A woman with glasses standing near some brick homes. There's a large building under construction in the background.
Shannon Mikus, who lives in the Minnow Lake neighbourhood of Sudbury, Ont., says it’s been difficult to enjoy her backyard this summer because a large seniors’ residence is being built behind her home, and bits of foam from the construction site have ended up on her property. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Mikus said she had an allergic reaction to the foam, with difficulty breathing and some congestion when the pieces were in the air.

“We’re trying to enjoy our summer, we’re trying to enjoy our backyards and we can’t,” she said.

In addition to the foam, Mikus said, clear plastic bags and pieces of plastic have ended up in her yard from the construction project. She said she wants the construction site kept clean to prevent waste from getting to her yard.

Mikus also said she and her family had planned to move to another part of town in about a year, but they now want to do so sooner because of the construction.

Company owner Danny Bawa told CBC News they cleaned up the mess left in people’s yards from the construction, but did not elaborate.

Stacey Kidd, one of Mikus’s neighbours, said they did send two people with vacuums to remove bits of foam from people’s yards.

We enjoy our backyard. Well, at least we did enjoy our backyards.– Stacey Kidd of Sudbury, Ont.

“They have cleaned up, but he [the construction site manager] did indicate that this will continue,” she said.

“And we do have to basically deal with it.”

Kidd said she’s now against development, but added there hasn’t been enough communication from the developers on addressing the issue.

“I work in a long-term care facility, so you know what? The more homes that we can have for our senior population, by all means, but to go about it this way,” she added. 

A large building under construction.
A 137-unit home for seniors is under construction next to a residential neighbourhood in Sudbury. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Like Mikus, Kidd said she and her husband might consider selling their home because of construction disruptions.

“We enjoy our backyard. Well, at least we did enjoy our backyards,” she said.

“But I think it could get to that point where we could possibly look at selling one day.”

Cleanup plans

Vincent Marando, the construction site’s project manager, said expanded polystyrene foam is an industry standard for insulation with stucco buildings. 

Marando said that when workers are cutting the foam at higher levels, it’s impossible to fully prevent small pieces from flying off. They installed a fence to catch some, but pieces will still end up in people’s yards, he said.

“So to be there and catch every little crystal that comes down, it’s not possible.”

But Marando did note they plan to do a more thorough cleanup around the surrounding homes when they are done installing the foam insulation, in around four weeks.

“We will go through and clean every property,” he said.

“If we have to, we’ll replace the mulch in the flower beds. It’s not a big deal. Like, it’s going to get taken care of. It’s not carcinogenic.”

A man wearing a blue shirt and a white construction hat. He's standing in front of a building under construction.
Vincent Marando is the project manager at the construction site for a seven-storey seniors’ residence in the Sudbury neighbourhood of Minnow Lake. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

Marando added they haven’t broken any laws and “there’s no ministries here forcing us to do anything.”

Ministry of the Environment spokesperson Gary Wheeler confirmed in an email to CBC News that ministry staff “were in the neighbourhood on Friday, July 21, and confirmed that the cleanup was in progress.”

Wheeler said that since then, the ministry has received no other complaints from residents.

City of Greater Sudbury spokesperson Tanya Gravel said in an email to CBC News that environmental compliance officers were at the construction site on July 20, and “ordered that two catch basins be cleaned out with a vacuum truck and that filter cloth be installed on them to prevent any additional material from entering them.”

Gravel said Marando co-operated with the request with routine storm sewer inspections. He also had a filter cloth barrier installed over the sewers.

Environmental, health concerns

Miriam Diamond, a professor with the University of Toronto’s School of the Environment, said flame retardants mixed in with expanded polystyrene foams used for construction are a concern for health and the environment.

Diamond studies how pollutants enter the environment and how people can be exposed to them.

“What those flame retardants do, because they’re not chemically bonded to the Styrofoam, they escape over time,” she said.

“So depending on where the polystyrene is located, if it’s on the exterior of the building, that means it goes out into the air and can enter surface waters.”

Ontario’s building code requires that insulation have flame retardant added in for fire safety.

A rain gutter with pieces of white foam caught in a spider web.
Even after a cleanup, small pieces of expanded polystyrene foam could be found around properties on Camelot Drive in Sudbury. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

But Diamond said some researchers argue those regulations should be updated because fire retardants are so toxic.

“Independent fire scientists will say that once the flame hits the insulation, the game is over,” she said.

“That building insulation will confer minimal additional protection.”

According to a material safety data sheet from Mississauga, Ont.-based supplier EPS Depot Inc., the expanded polystyrene foam used in Sudbury contains a flame retardant called hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD).

A construction worker standing on a lift, installing pieces of white foam outside a building.
A worker installs expanded polystyrene foam, used for insulation, along the seniors’ residence that’s under construction. (Jonathan Migneault/CBC)

The federal government has the chemical on its Schedule 1 list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Other substances on the list include asbestos, lead and mercury.

Fe de Leon, a researcher and paralegal with the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said when a substance is listed under Schedule 1, it triggers a risk management response from the federal government.

That response could include restrictions on using the chemical or even an outright ban in Canada.

De Leon said that process is still underway for HBCD, but there’s an exemption in place that would allow for its continued use in expanded polystyrene foams as a fire retardant.

She said the chemical can stay in the environment “for a very long time,” and similar fire retardants have been found to cause cancers and disrupt some hormones in the body, which affects development. 


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