Introduction and case summary
A notorious toxic waste site in Montreal is being allowed to foul the St. Lawrence River, one of Canada’s most vital waterways, with dangerous chemicals on a daily basis. Despite overwhelming evidence condemning the Technoparc site – a former landfill since converted into an industrial park between Nuns’ Island and the Old Port – nothing is being done to stem the flow of pollution. The St. Lawrence River remains under threat of constant contamination.
In 2000, the Montreal-based pollution watchdog, Société pour Vaincre la Pollution (SVP), asked Canada’s Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI) to investigate the Technoparc site discharges. EBI’s 18-month investigation revealed the release of hazardous substances – including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – into the St. Lawrence River. At one sampling point at the river’s edge, EBI found PCB concentrations exceeding international guidelines by more than 8.5-million times.
EBI published its findings in a report presented to Environment Canada on April 11, 2002. The report furnished photographs of actual discharge points leading from the Technoparc site to the river. It also provided documentation that discharges from the site killed fish in laboratory tests – evidence that the discharges violated the federal Fisheries Act.
Within two weeks, EBI’s report prompted Environment Canada to launch its own investigation. And, yet, astonishingly, despite photographic proof, maps pinpointing discharge points, damning laboratory analyses and expert assessments, Environment Canada now seems unable or unwilling to pursue the matter. In a letter announcing the termination of its investigation, Environment Canada writes: “The analysis that we have done does not allow us to determine the precise source of the deleterious substances released to [the] St. Lawrence River. Therefore, Environment Canada brings closure to the investigation that you requested on April 11th, 2002.” Environment Canada’s failure to pinpoint the source of the toxins streaming into the St. Lawrence cannot justify its terminating the investigation. On the contrary, the plight of the St. Lawrence River demands a reopening of this investigation, and with renewed vigour.
Environment Canada is not the only party failing to fulfill its environmental mandate. On paper, the province of Quebec has some of the strongest restrictions on PCBs in Canada. But the province is not enforcing its Surface Water Criteria. Stringent standards mean nothing if they are not enforced.
Technoparc’s owner, the City of Montreal, has also abandoned its environmental responsibilities. The City has known about the discharges for many years. Pressed to protect the St. Lawrence, it responded by installing a containment system designed to catch PCBs and PAHs escaping into the river. The City’s seasonal containment system comprises a series of floating cushions, called booms, that are removed during the winter months; absorbent pads have also been placed on the river’s surface. Both measures have proved woefully inadequate and have failed to prevent the escape of tarry blobs and oil slicks (in one instance, measuring 400 metres in length). Water sampling by EBI confirms the continued presence of PCBs, PAHs, and petroleum hydrocarbons outside the booms.
Despite evidence to the contrary, visible to anyone looking at the river, or at EBI’s photographs documenting the spills and slicks, the City still talks publicly about “successful containment,” notes Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper. His organization is working with EBI and SVP for a restart of the Environment Canada investigation.
To bolster its case, EBI commissioned a report on the Technoparc site by biologist David Dillenbeck, formerly with the Ontario Ministry of Environment for more than 20 years. Mr. Dillenbeck found that “hazardous substances are present in the water and sediments of the St. Lawrence River at concentrations that are well in excess of established Provincial, Federal and international guidelines.” Mr. Dillenbeck explained that these hazardous substances include PCBs, identified by Environment Canada as persistent toxic substances that are “too dangerous to the ecosystem and to humans to permit their release in any quantity.” They also include PAHs, which are probable human carcinogens and acutely toxic to fish. Mr. Dillenbeck concluded, “These hazardous substances are deleterious to fish and other aquatic biota and will cause or are likely to cause the impairment of the quality of the natural environment for any use that can be made of it. Remedial measures must be taken to eliminate this discharge and to protect and upgrade the water quality of the St. Lawrence River.” A copy of Mr. Dillenbeck’s findings is included in this report.
In the wake of the chilling decision to cancel its investigation, it is imperative that pressure be brought to bear on Environment Canada to relaunch its investigation as soon as possible. To quote a report on the Technoparc tragedy by Stephanie Weiss, the executive director of Save the River!, an organization dedicated to protecting the St. Lawrence River and the nearby Thousand Islands region: “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.”
In Canada and in Quebec, strict laws and standards govern water quality, especially the quality of water in which fish live. Evidence of the violation of these laws and standards has been gathered and presented. There is no excuse for inaction. Environment Canada must restart its investigation. Future generations will not forgive the spoiling of a great river when all the mechanisms to protect it were in place.
The following pages include Mr. Dillenbeck’s report on the Technoparc site, a map and photographs of the site, laboratory analyses of samples taken from the site, and other documents of interest, including correspondence with Environment Canada. More information – including field notes from site visits, correspondence regarding the site and news articles – are posted on EBI’s web site at http://www.e-b-i.net under “We Investigate.”