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Toxic ash delays return of some Fort McMuray residents

Some Fort McMurray residents who had been expecting to return home starting June 4th will now likely be out of their homes for the entire summer. Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Doctor Karen Grimsrud says air, soil and ash testing has shown chemicals that could pose a risk to people living in the Abasands, Beacon Hill and Waterways neighbourhoods. While the 567 homes affected may still be intact, it’s not safe to stick around.

“We recognize this is new information for residents of these three neighbourhoods and many of them are understandably concerned and upset, but we need to ensure that residents and their families are protected when crews being removing debris that is toxic and potentially dangerous in it.”

Among those chemicals were arsenic and heavy metals. Premier Rachel Notley says the residents affected will be able to access their homes but while accompanied by officials and wearing personal protective equipment.

“We’re saying they can gain access; they’ll be invited to go in and look at their houses and retrieve their belongings just the same as the folks going in whose houses have been damaged, but then we’re asking them to leave the area until we can get it safely remediated. It could be as long as September.”

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There are roughly 1,500 more people now displaced from the 567 homes still standing but considered unsafe. That’s in addition to the 7,500 to 8,000 people who already can’t return. Their destroyed homes have been covered in a material that hardens into a protective shell, stopping contaminants from spreading further.

For those who are coming back starting June 1st, Mayor Melissa Blake warns them to be prepared.

“There are some things you need to be aware of that we don’t think is going to be detrimental. If you don’t come with 14 days of food, I’m delighted to say that we’ve had progress with the grocery store even in town that’s got some stock on the shelves. You know your needs best and we encourage you to have those in hand as you come.

The hospital should be open for basic services Wednesday as well.

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