Seeping dump nets record Hamilton fine

The Globe & Mail, September 19, 2000
by Ken Kilpatrick

Detective work by a veteran environmental activist has resulted in the municipality being slapped with a record $450,000 fine for allowing PCBs, ammonia and chlorinated pesticides to flow from an old city dump into Red Hill Creek.

“It’s been a good day,” Linda Lukasik of Hamilton said yesterday after the city pleaded guilty before a justice of the peace in Ontario Court to one charge of violating the federal Fisheries Act and one of violating Ontario’s Water Resources Act.

“I’m thrilled with the outcome.”

Under the mandatory fine-splitting provision for private prosecution in the Fisheries Act, Ms. Lukasik was awarded half of the $300,000 paid to the federal government. She said she will use the money to pay her legal costs and to set up a fund for environmental investigative and advocacy work in Hamilton.

Doug Chapman, a lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, said the $450,000 fine is “the largest fine for an environmental crime ever levied against a municipality in Canada.

“It will certainly send a message to other polluters that they risk severe penalties if they continue to destroy environment.”

Ms. Lukasik, a resident of East Hamilton, has been involved in a plan to clean up Hamilton Harbour, one of North America’s most polluted bodies of water, and is vice-president of Great Lakes United, a Canadian-U.S. coalition fighting pollution in the Great Lakes basin.

The east-end Hamilton dump, which was used for disposal from 1950 to 1962 and then converted to a city works yard where machinery and equipment are stored, came to the attention of Hamilton authorities in 1989 when studies for the still unfinished Red Hill Creek Expressway showed leachate leaving the dump and entering the river.

No action was taken.

In 1998, the Environment Ministry demanded action from the city. Again, nothing was done until a resident of the affected area contacted Ms. Lukasik in the spring of 1999.

“We started doing some digging. The Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the Environmental Bureau of Investigation provided us with funding,” Ms. Lukasik said.

“We didn’t see a lot of action on the part of the city until we laid these charges.”

“It’s hard not to be cynical,” she said. “I think about this site. I’ve seen all the seepage going into the water; kids play down there.

“How did our local government fail us so miserably on this site? I’m still struggling with this. The local environment office needs more re- sources and staff.”

Ms. Lukasik said she is also concerned about the residents of 20 homes that back onto the dumpsite and whether toxic leachate is migrating to their back yards.

The site leaked chemicals into the river, ranging from dangerous levels of polychlorinated biphenyls to chlorinated pesticides and ammonia. The river flows to Hamilton Harbour and then to Lake Ontario.

No environmental control measures were ever implemented.

Not until July 21, 1999, when Ms. Lukasik filed a complaint, did the Environment Ministry’s investigations and enforcement branch begin collecting samples in the vicinity, including leachate seeps, soils, sediments, creek water and fish.

Analysis confirmed the site was a source of PCB contamination.

Fish tissue contained statistically higher concentrations of PCBs than fish netted farther away. The city plans to spend $8-million to $11-million on short- and long-term remediation.