Arsenic level in Moira River highest in decades
DELORO, ON — Arsenic, cobalt, and nickel leaking from the former Deloro Mine site are at dangerous levels, according to information released today by the Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI).
The data show that arsenic concentrations in the Moira River at Highway 7 exceed the maximum level permitted by the Ontario government’s Certificate of Approval. A certificate the Ontario government granted itself to operate the toxic waste site in the late 1980s. The Ministry of Environment usually relies on the river to dilute the contaminants it discharges, but it has failed to reduce discharges enough to compensate for this summer’s low water levels.
“Dilution was the MOE’s solution – until it stopped raining. Now it must be held accountable,” says EBI Associate Director Janet Fletcher. Ms. Fletcher is launching a request for an investigation under the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights for exceedances of the Certificate of Approval at Highway 7, and for dangerous levels of heavy metal pollution in Young’s Creek – a tributary of the Moira River – and toxic contamination in the village.
EBI and other environmentalists laid charges under the Fisheries Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act against the MOE for polluting the Moira River and Young’s Creek between 1995 and 1997. The government was acquitted of the charges after an Ottawa judge found that the government had acted diligently during that period of time.
“This time it is different,” says Fletcher. “Now the MOE is breaching its own control order and allowing concentrations in the river far above anything during the 1995 to 1997 period.”
The data, which is available on the EBIweb site, is based on sampling conducted by EBI and the MOE in July and August of this year. EBI took samples from the Moira River and Young’s Creek for testing and found alarming levels of arsenic, cobalt, and nickel in excess of, in some cases, hundreds of times, the Provincial Water Quality Objectives established to protect aquatic life. Results from the Ministry’s arsenic sampling from the Moira River show that arsenic levels exceed the maximum allowable concentration set by the government’s Certificate of Approval – 0.2 mg/L or four times higher than the Provincial Water Quality Objectives.
Tom Adams, an EBI Advisor, fears that the government’s acquittal may lead area residents to believe the Moira River and Young’s Creek are being cleaned up. In fact, concentrations of contaminants are higher this summer than they have been since at least the 1980s.
The government’s assessment of the Moira River shows that people in communities downstream from the Deloro site have been drinking water from the river. Since 1999, the MOE has issued three notices to property owners not to drink untreated water, but Adams is concerned that users who are not property owners, such as recreational users, may not be informed and may be at risk. People might not realize the acute toxic conditions or know that arsenic cannot be removed from water, except through distillation or sophisticated chemical treatments backed up by proper assay techniques. Boiling water or using conventional filters are not effective forms of treatment.
In addition to contaminants in the water, EBI testing also shows that contaminants in Deloro’s street dust are at or above levels set by the MOE for contaminated sites.
“I applaud the government for sharing its data with EBI,” Adams says. “Full disclosure is key to public safety, which is why we share the results of our investigations with the general public. Our sample results prove that Young’s Creek is a toxic soup, the Moira River is more toxic than it has been in decades, and the town of Deloro has high levels of toxic materials blowing around the streets. We think people need to know that.”
Full results of the MOE’s daily and monthly sampling are not scheduled to be made public by the Ministry of Environment until next spring, but EBI was able to receive advance notice of the MOE’s arsenic sampling at Highway 7 and the Moira River as a result of a special request.
Lake Ontario Keeper, a project of EBI and watchdog for the lake, will also be keeping an eye on water quality in the area where the Moira River meets Lake Ontario.