November 10, 1999


City of Hamilton Charged for Red Hill Creek Toxic PCB Contamination

The Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the Environmental Bureau of Investigation today announced that, in a private prosecution, the City of Hamilton has been charged under the provincial Environmental Protection Act and the federal Fisheries Act for allegedly discharging PCBs and toxic ammonia into Red Hill Creek from the City’s Rennie Street Public Works yard in Hamilton.  Lynda Lukasik, a Hamilton environmentalist and winner of the 1999 “Environmentalist of the Year Award” laid the private prosecution charges on behalf of hundreds of citizens who have struggled for years to protect the Red Hill Valley and its fish bearing Creek. Lynda is represented by Douglas Chapman of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund (SLDF) who will prosecute the case. Mark Mattson, of the Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI) gathered the evidence including pollution samples and documents.

The City of Hamilton apparently has known for 10 years that leachate from the old Rennie Street dump has been pouring into the fragile waters of Red Hill Creek. Almost a year and a half ago, the Ministry of the Environment advised the City that its discharges into the Creek contained dangerous polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and that the City “was required to take the necessary remedial measures to eliminate the seepage of wastes into the Creek.”

“PCBs are a world-wide problem and are banned hazardous substances because they are so persistent in the environment,” said Lynda Lukasik. “Further”, she said, “most of these PCBs are going into Hamilton Harbour which is already a polluted ‘Area of Concern’ under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.”

The toxic ammonia levels were so high in the samples obtained from the site that the test animals all died in minutes in the lab. There are already strict government fish-consumption restrictions in place for people eating fish from Hamilton Harbour. Most of these restrictions are PCB based. Both ammonia and PCBs are listed as contaminants of concern in downstream Hamilton Harbour.

Burke Austin, who lives very close to the site, is appalled that the City has allowed its City Yard and dump to discharge dangerous PCBs onto the banks of the Creek and into it. “For years I worked to have the trail and bridge installed across the Creek so that citizens could have access to it, and now I am so worried because I know that many children are playing in this polluted area and there are no signs to warn them,” she said.

“It’s a tragedy that private citizens have had to take environmental law enforcement into their own hands in Ontario,” said Stewart Elgie, Managing Lawyer of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. “The Provincial Government has cut 40% from its environmental budget since 1995 and is turning a blind eye to toxic pollution problems like this one.”

Dave Dillenbeck, a Biologist with over 20 years experience with the Ministry of the Environment before his retirement, examined the discharges at the site, the lab documents and concluded that the City’s discharges into Red Hill Creek were always acutely toxic to fish and further that the PCB concentrations were “many thousands of times” over the Provincial Water Quality Objectives for PCBs.