Birds rescued from Mimico Creek oil spill released into wild

As the clean-up continues more than one month after a massive industrial fire in north Etobicoke that led to a significant oil spill in Mimico and Humber creeks, some of the rescued birds that were caught in the sludge have been released back into the wild.

“I was absolutely thrilled to see these birds going back, healthy and clean into the environment, it’s the whole reason we do this kind of work,” said Nathalie Karvonen, executive director of Toronto Wildlife Centre.

She said 84 rescued birds have been freed at locations west of Toronto, away from areas affected by the spill.

“In consultation with ornithologists, we chose different release sites so they wouldn’t return to Mimico Creek as the creek is not 100 per cent clean.”

Karvonen said since the fire and spill on Aug. 11 at chemical distribution company Brentagg Canada, 112 birds have been admitted to the centre with product on them. The most recent — a heron rescued two days ago.

She said 20 of the rescued birds died, most of which came to the centre in poor condition, with others in varied condition.

She said some were brought in “dripping in the product”, and in bad condition, others have suffered lethargy and respiratory constraints or had their waterproofing impacted. Some died because they ingested the product.

“Definitely has been a challenge for our team of staff and volunteers to do the best we can to help the animals who were affected by this accident,” adding the centre was nearly already at maximum capacity when the spill occurred, as it is a charity with limited resources.

A bird saved from an oil spill in Mimico Creek (Toronto Wildlife Centre). “I think this is devastating. The worst thing I’ve ever seen,” said Yvonne Smiciklas, a long-time area resident who has been coming to the area daily to watch the spill’s cleanup progress.

“I don’t see any politicians, I don’t see anyone chiming in, stepping up to the plate and I don’t know what is going to happen.”

“And most definitely it’s seeped into Lake Ontario, and the effect it’s going to have on us all. They don’t seem to care. That’s water we drink. That’s what we use, and I think it’s horrendous.”

Smiciklas said since the spill it seems as though the wildlife has disappeared, as the clean-up has started and stopped over the past several weeks.

One of the 84 birds rescued from an oil spill in north Etobicoke.

A bird saved from an oil spill in Mimico Creek (Toronto Wildlife Centre).
In an update to CTV News Sept. 6, the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks said it has taken samples of the spill with preliminary results confirming “petroleum-based oil as the main contributor to the ecological impacts.”

Karvonen said Toronto Wildlife Centre is set to receive a “large donation” from Brentagg Canada, the company where the industrial fire took place and which led to the spill.

She said it’s fortunate spills of this size don’t happen very often and it appears the response has been “quite strong” and “quite multi-faceted,” with agencies and organization on site “almost right away.”

“From that point on it was 24/7, so to us that all seemed quite good,” adding the company has reached out several times over the past month.

The ministry said it continues to sample and gather information to assess the extent of environmental impact and has been on the ground since the morning of the fire ensuring that the responsible party takes all appropriate actions to clean up the spilled materials.

A bird being released back into the wild after an oil spill in Mimico Creek (Toronto Wildlife Centre).

“The spill has been contained with significant clean-up already completed, however, to ensure Ontario’s strict environmental standards continue to be met, the ministry expects to remain on site to monitor the situation until October,” the ministry’s Sept 6. update said.

“This includes working with the City of Toronto, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, and Environment and Climate Change Canada to ensure that a coordinated approach is conducted to address any concerns related to the spill and that information is communicated to concerned residents.”

On August 18, an update from the ministry said GFL, the company hired by Brentagg Canada to do the clean-up, had deployed four boats in Lake Ontario to assess how much material made it into the lake and to place additional containment. It also said booms had been installed in Lake Ontario and crews were verifying established containment measures along the creeks, which were reinforced where needed. 

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