Discharge still coming from Rennie St. landfill

The Hamilton Spectator  March 6/2000
by Bill Dunphy

Neighbourhood and environmental activists charge that the city is violating an environment ministry order and once again allowing toxic runoff from the old Rennie Street landfill to seep into Red Hill Creek. “We’re still seeing liquid discharged from the old landfill,” activist Linda Lukasik said yesterday during a walk along the creek banks opposite the landfill.”On Friday, it was pouring out like a waterfall,” she said pointing to a deeply eroded cut in the creek bank.

The City of Hamilton was charged last November under Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act and the Fisheries Act with permitting a toxic soup of PCBs and ammonia to seep out of the old dump and into the creek about two kilometers before it empties into Windermere Basin.

The privately laid charges, which carry a maximum fine of $2 million, were brought by Lukasik and the volunteer watchdog group, Environmental Bureau of Investigation.

Tests showed the leachate (liquid seeping out of the dump) contained highly toxic levels of ammonia and PCBs. Fish placed in the liquid died, the activists said.

Environment ministry officials slapped the city with a “field order” requiring the erection of silt fences to prevent contaminated soil from spilling into the creek and called for an end to all discharges from the landfill.

The silt fences are now bulging and torn.

In one place, they are entirely ripped away and a frothy discharge is falling from a large steel pipe. It’s also seeping from the dump at a half-dozen other spots.

It’s impossible to tell from a visual inspection whether the runoff contains toxic pollutants, but it is clear the murky liquid is coming from the half-century old landfill.

Equally obvious is that the city’s silt fences are ill-maintained and not doing the job they are supposed to do.

Neighbourhood activist Burke Austin pointed to a torn and dirty length of black plastic wrapped around debris in the creek.

“That’s the number nine silt fence. It probably got carried down here by the high runoff when the snows melted but they should have repaired it by now.”

Lukasik pointed to rips in another length of fence.

“We’re concerned they are not maintaining the fences and that a flow (of runoff) is getting through,” she said.

“We know this is just a Band-Aid until they can get on with a full cleanup, but even so they could be more careful.”

Lukasik said she called ministry officials Friday and was told an abatement officer was sent to the site. Results of that inspection were not known last night.

Area ward alderman Dave Wilson said he hadn’t heard of any problems with the city’s remedial work but promised to have staff check it this morning.

Citing the continuing legal case, Wilson said he couldn’t comment further.

Alderman Fred Eisenberger, who chairs the region’s environmental services committee, said he hadn’t heard there was renewed trouble at the dump.

“It’s really a city matter,” Eisenberger said last night.

“That ought not to be happening. The last I heard they had contained the material they were concerned about.” Eisenberger said the region helped in developing a remediation plan, which calls for a $700,000 cleanup.

The Rennie Street landfill, which covers a wide site running west of the Red Hill Creek between Rennie and Brampton streets, was operational through the ’40s and ’50s and up until about 1962.

At that time, the dump was capped and a city works yard constructed on top of it. Exact records of what was put in the landfill are not available.

The problems faced by the city in controlling toxic runoff from the dump are believed by many activists to be just one example of a much larger problem facing municipalities across Ontario as they struggle to deal with the legacy left by decades of poorly controlled municipal and private landfills and dumps.