February 22, 2001

Moncton Times and Transcript

Moncton’s old landfill site under investigation
by Craig Babstock

Environment Canada has begun its investigation into whether or not the City of Moncton is violating of the Federal Fisheries Act.

The city met with investigators last Friday to discuss the old landfill site and the leachate — rainwater that’s been contaminated by the garbage in the dump — that’s seeping into the Petitcodiac River.

The investigation will determine if the leachate is harming the river or if there’s no negative impact at all.

On one side of the debate is the Petitcodiac Riverkeepers and the Environmental Bureau of Investigation. On the other side is the city — which says it followed a provincially-approved plan when the dump was closed — and the provincial Environment Department which looked into the matter last November and said there was no evidence the dump is polluting the river.

Geoff Greenough, head of Moncton’s engineering and public works departments, says they met with the federal officials and gave them all the information they have on the situation. That included test results from various sites and copies of the closure plan that was used from 1995 to 1999, when the work was being performed.

As far as the city’s concerned, they haven’t done anything wrong.

“We feel we’ve followed the regulations we were supposed to follow and the advice of our consultants and the approved method of the Department of the Environment,” says Greenough. “And we were confident from the province’s assurances we did the right thing.”

With an investigation under way, is he still confident?

“Time will tell,” says Greenough.

The city doesn’t argue that leachate isn’t entering the river. Greenough even says they have a problem area where Jonathon Creek meets the river. They’re looking at a number of options to take care of that seepage, such as putting in a filter or diverting it to the sewer system.

“We want to make sure what we do will do the job,” he says. “But we don’t even know what’s necessary at this point. We haven’t had any confirmation there’s a violation.”

Provincial water quality specialist Jerry Choate is one of the officials who met with the city back in November. Besides the problem area, he said it doesn’t look like much leachate is getting into the river and what is seeping through is harmless because the few hundred metres of marsh and mud flats between the old dump and the river act as a remediation tool.

As the waste is breaking down in the landfill, it doesn’t have access to oxygen, which causes a build-up of ammonia, which, along with iron, is the biggest concern to the river. The ammonia gets carried out with the rainwater as it seeps into the marsh and much of it turns to a gas when it’s exposed to oxygen.

Choate says any ammonia that does make it to the water turns to nitrates and doesn’t cause any problem.

“If it does reach the river, it’s already treated,” he said. As far as the iron is concerned, he said that seeps out with the water as well, but when it hits the air, it turns solid and is deposited in the soil, so it also doesn’t make it to the river.

Michael Sprague, the director of remediation with the Environment Department, said at the time they haven’t seen evidence the river is being polluted.

“Basically, when it was all said and done and I left the meeting, no one had seen information suggesting there was a problem,” said Sprague.

But Mark Mattson, an investigator with the Environmental Bureau of Investigation, says their research leads them to believe the leachate is harming the river. The bureau is a non-profit organization that investigates and sometimes prosecutes polluters. They were contacted by Riverkeeper Daniel LeBlanc last summer and came to do their own investigation. They had a biologist test the samples and he says the findings were conclusive.

“The report indicates this is toxic leachate that’s having a deleterious affect on the water,” says Mattson.

They put together their evidence and sent a copy to the city and also to Environment Canada requesting they investigate.

Mattson says if the federal agency decides there is a violation, it can order the city to fix the problem, or take it to court if need be.

But he says if the investigation doesn’t result in any resolution to the situation, the bureau might get involved again.

“We can proceed privately and the Riverkeeper can lay its own charges,” he says. “We hope that situation never has to occur because all we want is for Environment Canada to enforce the law.”

Mattson’s group isn’t hesitant to turn to the legal system to get results. Last year it won cases against the cities of Hamilton and Kingston, who were fined $300,000 and $150,000 respectively. They also have the province of Ontario tied up in a lawsuit.

The city’s claims that it followed provincial guidelines when closing up the dump could be true, says Mattson, but he says that still doesn’t absolve them of responsibility. He says the Fisheries Act prohibits toxic substances from entering rivers, while provincial acts usually require the observation of an environmental problem’s negative affects before determining there’s a problem. Mattson says that means dead fish would have to start floating before anything was done.

But he adds that even if Moncton is in compliance with the province, that’s not enough. “The city is also responsible to the federal legislation,” he says.