January 22/2001

The Hamilton Spectator

Tainted landfills may leak 100 years
by Eric Mcguinness

Contaminated water with high levels of ammonia may continue to ooze from the old Brampton Street and Rennie Street dumps for more than a century.

And it will continue to take its toll on taxpayers’ wallets.

It now appears an $11-million plan to stop toxic liquid leaking into Red Hill Creek from the Rennie Street dump may be extended to stop seepage from the adjacent Brampton Street landfill.

A community liaison committee set up for public input to the Rennie plan will expand its role to advise on Brampton as well as a third site, known as the Nash dump, on the other side of the creek.

Consultants told committee members last week that 10 or 12 seeps from the Brampton site have been discovered in the past two years. Several have been covered with gravel to prevent people or animals coming in contact with the contaminated liquid, which results from rain and groundwater trickling through buried waste.

Engineers are also looking at installing some sort of absorbent material to soak up the ammonia-laden leachate until a permanent collection system can be installed.

Ammonia is created by decomposition of food and other organic waste in the absence of oxygen. Experts say the process could continue 50 to 100 years or even longer in the heap of some 500,000 tonnes of refuse.

Weak ammonia solutions are used as household cleaners. At higher concentrations it can burn the skin. High concentrations can also kill fish. Ammonia robs the water of oxygen as it breaks down, and forms nitrates that promote the growth of algae.

It may have been cheap and easy to tip municipal and industrial waste into the creek valley 40 or 50 years ago, but the resulting environmental mess is costly, difficult to control and will be around for a long time.

The city intends to work on the Rennie dump this summer and on Brampton next year. To start work this construction season, an acceptable plan will have to be found and put through an environmental assessment process quickly.

Officials favour moving the creek channel east, leaving space below the steep, west bank to install a leachate collection system. That would mean excavating some waste from the Nash site.

But engineers planning the controversial Red Hill Creek Expressway propose the excavation of 70,000 cubic metres of the Rennie waste to make room for the road, and some area residents would like to see the whole dump hauled away, a job that would likely take 10 years at the rate of 25 truckloads a day.