City charged in Red Hill pollution

The Hamilton Spectator, August 20, 2000
by Eric McGuinness

The City of Hamilton faces a provincial charge of allowing toxic leachate to leak into Red Hill Creek from the old Rennie Street dump. It’s believed to be only the second time the Ministry of the Environment has investigated and prosecuted an alleged pollution offence that’s also the subject of charges laid by a private citizen or citizens.

The private charges were filed last fall by Lynda Lukasik of Hamilton with aid from the Toronto-based Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI).

She alleged in November that the city had known for 18 months that PCBs and toxic levels of ammonia were seeping into the creek, causing harm that violated Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act and the federal Fisheries Act.

The province has since laid a single charge under the Ontario Water Resources Act. Notice was served on the city Aug. 17.

The ministry no longer issues news releases when it lays charges, so its action was not revealed until the charge came up in court along with the private ones yesterday.

All three were put over until 1:30 p.m. Sept. 11.

The only previous such case is one in which the City of Kingston was convicted and fined $150,000 last year after charges were laid by citizens, the EBI and later the ministry. That case, also involving a waste site, is being appealed by both sides.

Lukasik and the EBI last year collected leachate seeping into the creek from waste buried beneath a city works yard built after the dump closed. They say fish dipped in the liquid died within minutes. They also turned up correspondence in which the city acknowledged provincial concerns about seepage and promised remedial action in August 1998.

The Sierra Legal Defence Fund, handling the private prosecutions in both Kingston and Hamilton, reportedly took its Hamilton file to the ministry investigator assigned to the Kingston case, and his probe led to the charge laid earlier this month.

It alleges that between Aug. 5 and Sept. 30, 1999 the city discharged or allowed the discharge of toxic leachate that impaired water quality in the creek.

Lukasik, pleased by the ministry action, said, “It reinforces our findings. It’s nice to see the ministry following through with a charge as well.”

It was difficult to get reaction from city hall yesterday, but Peter Dunn, of the transportation, operations and environment department, said the region has undertaken remedial action on the city’s behalf since last March.

Dunn said floating booms and absorbent pads have been placed in the creek to trap leachate and are being inspected daily. Two temporary systems have been installed in the creek bank to collect leachate, and 40,000 litres have been trucked away for treatment.

In addition, staff have proposed the installation of an $8-million permanent system that will require federal and provincial approval. The project could cost another $3 million if collected leachate requires treatment before being discharged into the sewer system.