Tests conducted by an environmental group suggest last month's Lac-Mégantic, Que., train disaster had a devastating impact on water quality and soil in the affected area.
Extremely high concentrations of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and arsenic, detected in surface water, have "confirmed the fears" of the Société pour vaincre la pollution, the group said.
The analysis, which was obtained by The Canadian Press, suggests the rate of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons is 394,444 times the standard acceptable for surface waters mandated by the provincial government.
As well, the concentration of arsenic detected on the water's surface is said to exceed the government's acceptable standard by 28 times. There was also "an extremely high level of petroleum hydrocarbons following the explosive derailment and oil spill," the environmental group said.
The Société worked in collaboration with Greenpeace on the study.
The organization acknowledged that "because of its limited resources," it was unable to perform all chemical analysis required to identify all the toxins, but said it hoped to carry out a second round of tests.
The environmental group has criticized the provincial government's attitude and accuses Environment Department officials of trying to create a "culture of secrecy."
Greenpeace accused the Environment Department of underestimating the consequences of the July 6 derailment, which levelled part of the town and left 47 people dead.
"I was surprised to see them minimize the spill," said Keith Stewart, co-ordinator of Greenpeace's climate and energy campaign, in a telephone interview. "This is one of the largest spills in Canadian history. It will take considerable effort to clean up."
The organization also accused the private company contracted to conduct the cleanup of blocking its access to the site – something the company, SIMEC, has denied. In an interview, SIMEC said it had not had dealings with groups like SVP and did not bar access.
The office of Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet declined multiple requests for an interview with The Canadian Press.
Another observer urges a skeptical reading of the study.
A chemical engineering professor at Montreal's École polytechnique says the crude evidence-gathering techniques undermine its scientific value.
"What they've written is worrisome enough, but it's premature," Gregory Patience said. "It's incomplete and the report is alarmist."
He added that the weight of the chemicals should have sent them sinking to the bottom of the Chaudière River, so he's perplexed they would have been detected in surface waters in such a high volume.
As of Aug. 4, the Environment Department estimated that 7.2 million litres of light-crude oil had spilled into the environment as a result of the catastrophic derailment.
Faced with mounting cleanup costs, the railway at the heart of the disaster has filed for bankruptcy protection and appears in danger of folding. The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway will also have its Canadian licence revoked next week, federal regulators announced Tuesday.
Taxpayers have been forced to shell out millions for the environmental-cleanup bill after MMA failed to pay workers it had hired for the job.
The town and the Quebec government have sent legal notices to the railway, demanding it reimburse Lac-Mégantic nearly $7.8-million.