April 19, 2002
Toxic slicks shocks noted river guardian
by Stephanie Weiss
Today was one of the most memorable days of my life as an environmental professional. I took a trip to Montreal with Mark Mattson, the Lake Ontario Keeper, and the organization’s investigator, Eric Mattson. We started the four hour drive from Kingston with beautiful spring weather and a lapful of analytical reports and briefs to get through on the way.
The reason for the trip was two-fold.. as the director of Save The River, (environmental non-profit on the St. Lawrence River), Mark and I do work that is complementary, and this was a great chance to get to know each other better, discuss our common goals and the work of our organizations.
But the primary purpose for the trip was to deliver a report on a toxic site called ‘the Technoparc’ that has been spilling PCBs into the St. Lawrence in Montreal for years. The report was the culminating piece of an eighteen-month investigation by the Environmental Bureau of Investigation who are assisting SVP’s Daniel Green of Montreal.
The plan was to take the report to Environment Canada and make sure they understood that it was enough legal evidence of an environmental crime to prosecute, and that they need to take action.
I had reviewed a lot of the data on the way in the car- the levels of PCBs were detected at concentrations that exceed government guidelines by more than 8.5 million times… 8.5 million times- I struggled to absorb this number. Somehow it just didn’t seem possible.
We were lucky with a truly beautiful spring day- the river shone- it was hard to be in a bad mood. As we approached the Technoparc waterfront (“the site” as it had been called all day) I couldn’t imagine this being a toxic waste dump- it was too pretty here.. sparkling St. Lawrence waters standing in little white rapids because of the high current in the area, sun shining on the water, blue skies.. but then I saw the boom, (thin, orange, held in place by long strings), next the absorption boom (also thin, and white saturated with dark oil), and finally I saw the slick extending beyond the useless booms… long, shiny, the unmistakable iridescence of oil, and when I put this sight together with the lab results from the car ride, I went cold. I was watching the poisoning of the River I love more than anywhere else on earth. This water had flowed by my own house not long ago, and the water now flowing by the my house was moving toward the same fate. Toxic contamination at levels that are unheard of in this day and age.
I stared and quietly asked stupid questions like “how long?” or “where is everyone?”. From the site you could see many downtown buildings, and I found myself wondering why all those people were over there, instead of here … doing something- anything about this toxic spill. I had an overwhelming urge to take off my suit jacket and throw it in to soak up some of the chemicals.
It seemed necessary to do something and yet I didn’t know what. We discussed it together- the meeting with Environment Canada had gone well, a decision about starting an investigation would be delivered in two weeks. The efforts of Daniel and Mark were moving things forward, and in order to maximize this progress we decided that letters should be written to the minister of the environment, and e-copies sent to Daniel for distribution to the press. (Find addresses at the bottom of this message.)
But for the rest of the day, as we were eating lunch at a little bistro in the old section of Montreal, as we checked out Notre Dame, as I bought a baguette to take home to my husband, there was a nagging thought in my mind…
It’s still leaking. Right now as I write this. Right now as you read this. During breakfast, after work when you’re fixing dinner. It’s still leaking. This is a pollution problem that is constant, and our message should be just as constant.
Every time I think of the site I get a twinge of unhappiness because I know it’s still leaking. So I send another e-mail message on to the env. minister with the title “Still leaking?” asking if the toxic pollution is still pouring into the River.
The day was frustrating, sad, but also inspiring. Mark and Daniel are doing great work. We are lucky to have them on the job. Let’s make sure they get the help they need to fix this environmental nightmare. Whether you are Canadian or American, like me, let your friends know this is happening. In the words of Aristotle, “Boundaries don’t protect rivers, people do.” … This is up to us.
Minister of the Environment mailing address: Honourable Mr. David Anderson Minister of the Environment House of Commons Parliament Buildings Ottawa, Ontario K1A0A6
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
EBI’s report on the Technoparc site
Stephanie Weiss is the Executive Director of Save The River!, a non-profit, member-based environmental organization whose mission is to preserve and protect the ecological integrity of the Thousand Islands Region of the St. Lawrence River through advocacy, education and research.