News / Toronto

Mississauga family's backyard mysteriously covered with... poop

It looks like poop. It certainly smells like poop.

But nobody knows for sure yet if what fell from the sky and splattered all over a Mississauga family’s back yard is really human waste.

Emma Gilfillan-Giannakos was sitting under her covered patio, while her children played in an outdoor fort, at about 5 p.m. Wednesday when she heard a loud splash.

“I had no idea what it was. I thought maybe a rainstorm, but it just hit and then it was gone,” she said.

When Gilfillan-Giannakos looked up, she saw hundreds of brown splotches covering her pool tarp, as well as part of her concrete patio, garden and roof. Small, hard pellets were floating in the pool where it was uncovered.

“I stuck a finger in the water and I smelled it,” she said, shuddering. “It was poop.”

The family lives about 20 kilometres from Pearson International Airport. Aircraft can be seen overhead at all hours of the day.

Transport Canada is investigating, but has not determined the source of the material or whether it is in fact frozen airplane lavatory waste, also known as “blue ice,” said spokesperson Maryse Durette.

Airplane washrooms have a sewage holding tank designed to be emptied at special facilities at airports. It’s possible for a valve to malfunction and for some of the tank’s contents to leak, said Durette.

“If this happens, the liquid seeping from valves freezes and adheres to the outside of the aircraft when the aircraft is flying at high altitudes,” she said.

“As the aircraft starts its descent and the atmosphere gets warmer, the ice will start to melt and pieces will detach themselves from the aircraft.”

If the substance is found to be blue ice, Transport Canada will try to identify the air carrier responsible and take “enforcement action” if it doesn’t fix the problem, she said.

But Gilfillan-Giannakos is furious to be left with a bill for more than $5000, after draining her pool, replacing the liner and pressure-washing her patio. Her insurance company has said it will not cover the costs.

“I’ve been cleaning human waste out of my back yard for hours,” she said. “I think someone ought to take responsibility.”

Dozens of flights from a slew of Canadian, American and international carriers were scheduled to arrive around 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to Pearson’s website. Private and corporate planes also use the airport.

The Star contacted several airlines but only received a detailed response from WestJet, which said it could not have been responsible because of the way its lavatory systems are designed.

These incidents are rare but not unheard of. In 1994, the Star reported a lump of blue ice crashed through the ceiling of a Vaughan home. At the time, Transport Canada officials said such incidents occurred “about once a year.’’

Poop protocols

Ever wonder what happens after you flush on the train or bus or on a cruise boat in Toronto harbour?

It’s an urban myth that waste goes in the lake or on the train tracks. Not so.

“No ‘black water’ (human waste) is permitted to be dumped into the Great Lakes by commercial or pleasure craft,’’ says Pamela McDonald, director of communications and public affairs for the Toronto Port Authority. “Waste goes into inboard tanks and is removed by having it pumped off into sewage tanks.’’

Waste dumping from any boats or vessels into Canadian waters is prohibited, she said.

Rebecca McGlynn, a spokesperson for Ontario Northland, which operates buses and a train in the province, says all human waste is kept in containment until being emptied into municipal sewage systems.

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