|AFTER ALMOST 20 YEARS OF PATCHWORK STEWARDSHIP, ONTARIO STILL HOLDS TITLE TO THE ABANDONED, CENTURY-OLD DELORO MINE SITE – ONE OF THE MOST CONTAMINATED PROPERTIES IN THE LANDA LEGACY of NEGLECTBy MIKE BLANCHFIELD Deloro, Ont.
BARRY GALLOWAY DOESN’T THINK the neighbours did it on purpose. They were just scared, dealing with something nobody was really used to hearing about back then. Sitting at his mother’s kitchen table two decades later, Mr. Galloway, a married 40-year-old father of two, hauls on his cigarette. “I don’t think anybody did it to be vindictive,” he says. “They were ignorant.”
A bizarre tragedy struck Mr. Galloway’s family 23 years ago. He and his parents were forced from their home when it was found to be radioactive. His father eventually died, the house was torn down.
Their neighbours in the village of Deloro did not react as the family would have hoped. Many turned their backs on the Galloways and dismissed their problems as outlandish or unbelievable. It seemed to Mr. Galloway that some people were more worried about the value of their houses, and the reputation of their village than they were about the health of their neighbours.
“I can remember going to a friend’s house one night and the parents saying, `Why are your parents making such a fuss about that?” he recalls. Barry Galloway grew up next to a pile of radioactive waste. His family’s home sat beside an abandoned mine and smelter that was littered with radioactive ore trucked in from Southern Ontario. In the 1950s, as an overnight driver, Barry Galloway’s father, Ted, earned extra money hauling that radioactive ore from Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. in Port Hope, for processing in Deloro. Ted Galloway was never told exactly what his cargo was, or how dangerous it was. In 1964, Ted bought a house next to the land once owned by the Deloro Smelting and Refining Company. The plant had shut down three years earlier. Nobody told the family that the discarded black rock littering the field next to their bungalow was radioactive. Ted Galloway died of lung cancer 12 years later. A coroner’s inquest decided that radiation was at least partially to blame. “It was almost like it was his destiny,” says Barry, the youngest of six children. “He worked at Deloro. He drove a truck hauling the stuff from Port Hope and he bought a house right next to the plant. “It was like someone was playing a cruel joke.” The radiation discovery at the Galloways’ home became national news. It came at a time of awakening for the country’s environmental conscience, and, coincidentally, at the time it was revealed that the area around Port Hope was badly contaminated by radioactive waste from the nearby refineries of Eldorado Nuclear. Eventually, the fuss died down and the Galloway family’s plight faded from public view. “The press really did go for it then,” says Ted Galloway’s widow, Sylvia. “At the same time it didn’t put any force or pressure on them to clean it up. I don’t see possibly how they can clean it up.” Two decades after Ted Galloway’s death, the old Deloro mine is still a filthy mess, a cesspool of arsenic, toxic heavy metals and radioactive debris. It sits next to the tiny village of Deloro — population 180, but once a thriving company town where several thousand worked — a two-hour drive west of Ottawa, just off Highway 7. How dirty is the old Deloro mine?
|Ontario Environment Minister Norm Sterling calls it a “very, very dangerous site.” His ministry says it’s the province’s “most contaminated land.” In 1993, it was added to Environment Canada’s list of hazardous hotspots. While disturbing questions remain about the radioactive waste that still litters the abandoned site, that’s not the worst problem here. Arsenic, a known carcinogen, is seeping at an alarming rate from the plant into rivers, bays and lakes as far away as Lake Ontario, 45 kilometres to the south. According to one environmental watchdog, more than three tonnes of arsenic leached into nearby Moira River and Moira Lake from Deloro in 1996 alone.
Last year, after almost 20 years of stewardship, the Ontario government decided it was time to do something about Deloro. The province hired a Toronto company to quarterback an ambitious cleanup of the site. Ontario inherited the mine site from Erickson Construction, an Ottawa company that abandoned the property in 1979. A Kingston watchdog — the Environmental Bureau of Investigation — has taken the government to court over its management of the site. Over 19 years, the province has spent $9 million on consultants’ reports and temporary solutions. Last year, EBI charged the ministry under the Ontario Fisheries Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act, accusing it of abrogating its responsibilities. A court will begin hearing the case this year or early next.
Deloro’s problems started long before the Ontario government became proprietor of the once-profitable mine. Its checkered history began Aug. 15, 1866, the day gold was discovered on a farmer’s rocky land at what is now the abandoned mine site. That discovery set off a century’s worth of industrial activity, unleashing the economic potential of a portion of the mineral-rich Canadian Shield. It gave birth to Deloro Smelting and Refining, a thriving smelting operation that discarded tonnes of toxic waste before it shut down in 1961.
“The legacy of waste management at Deloro before 1961 was one of perceiving unusable byproducts, the environment and the workforce in general as disposable products,” says a consultant’s report on the history of the Deloro site, commissioned for the Ontario government, and written in 1988.
Deloro’s woes are also rooted in ignorance. In the early part of the century, that was manifested in the attitudes of the industrialists who thought the land, air and water would not be adversely affected by thousands of tonnes of toxic arsenic and radioactive waste. As the 21st century approaches, that ignorance lingers — many refuse to acknowledge the environmental catastrophe at Deloro.
Twenty-three years ago, the Galloways’ next-door neighbour, Doug Lynch (who was then the village reeve), downplayed the radiation discovery at the Galloway house. “We don’t want people to think there is a major problem here. There isn’t, but there are actions that need to be taken,” he told the Toronto Star. Recently, Mr. Lynch had this to say to the Citizen’s Weekly: “That kind of BS, that’s the thing we, as citizens of this village, do not need.” The people who write those kinds of stories, he said, “don’t know assholes from teacups … We’ve got to keep the lid on some of this, I call, false publicity. What it does in the end, is it decimates your property values. Nobody will want to live here.”
Today, Barry Galloway has more serious concerns than the value of his house. He wonders whether the toxic waste has left its mark on him. When he was 17, he was diagnosed with a chronic prostate infection that plagues him still. He’s had two operations, and has since tried a series of experimental drugs. He’s been off work since November because the infection flared up again. His doctors tell him it might have something to do with exposure to radiation, then again it might not. He was five in 1964 when his family moved into their white and blue bungalow beside the mine site, and he lived there longer than any of his five siblings. “It still upsets me,” he says. “They moved us out, tore the house down and never cleaned up the problem. They’ve never done any follow-up on any of us.”
Long before Deloro became known as the “Valley of Gold,” the rock-hard Canadian Shield landscape wore down a generation of settlers. For almost 30 years, it got the better of John Richardson, who had fled the Irish potato famine in 1838 and then bought a 100-acre farm for #50 in Hastings County. He started a new life with his wife, Margaret, and two young children, next door to his brother-in-law. It wasn’t easy. Two-thirds of the Richardson farm was marginal because it sat on Precambrian and Paleozoic rock formations. But after three decades of backbreaking labour, his patience was rewarded. It happened on Aug. 15, 1866, when Marcus Powell discovered gold on John Richardson’s farm. Powell, a 21-year-old prospector whose father ran a mill in a nearby town, had been hired by Richardson to explore a portion of his farm. The farmer was convinced the land would yield something of value.
That discovery, along with an earlier find about 15 kilometres north, set off a small gold rush in Hastings County. Towns sprang up, with names that evoked the spoils of Spanish conquistadors — Eldorado, Cordova, and on the site of the Richardson gold strike, Deloro, “valley of gold.” Until then, Richardson had little to show for his labour. The 1861census pegged his net worth at $1,000. He owned a log house, a few pigs, a couple of cows, and land that was essentially useless apart from the marginal amount of maple syrup it produced
That discovery, along with an earlier find about 15 kilometres north, set off a small gold rush in Hastings County. Towns sprang up, with names that evoked the spoils of Spanish conquistadors — Eldorado, Cordova, and on the site of the Richardson gold strike, Deloro, “valley of gold.” Until then, Richardson had little to show for his labour. The 1861census pegged his net worth at $1,000. He owned a log house, a few pigs, a couple of cows, and land that was essentially useless apart from the marginal amount of maple syrup it produced.
After the gold discovery, Richardson eventually sold the rights to his land for $10,000, an enormous amount, 10 times that of the salary of qualified high school principals of the day. But like so many other financial gains that were to be made during the coming century at Deloro, it was not without a human cost. John and Margaret Richardson never got to enjoy their golden payday as a couple. The years of hard living took their toll on Margaret and she died in the summer of 1868, less than two years after the gold strike. John spent the remaining 14 years of his life a widower, living with one of his children.
The gold found at Deloro and two dozen other mines around Central and Eastern Ontario was not the highest quality. Much of it was laced with arsenic, which reduced its purity and value. But it was mined sporadically for the remainder of the century. The real value of the gold found around Deloro was to lure industry to Hastings County, which until then had been sparsely populated. By the early 1880s, offices, a store and accommodation for 100 miners sprang up, the beginnings of the company town that Deloro was to become during the next century. The Canadian Consolidated Gold Mining Company, one of the first in a long parade of firms to set up in Deloro, built a mill that used yellow and green toxic chlorine gas in a process to separate arsenic from gold. Chlorine-based compounds, such as PCBs and dioxin, have since been linked to all sorts of cancers as well as to the extinction of various bird and fish species.
Canadian Goldfields Ltd. bought the Deloro mine near the turn of the century and built a library, social hall, church, offices and a manager’s house. Over the years, other companies, some American, built blacksmith shops, compressors and various mills and works.
In 1907, Michael John O’Brien, a colourful Renfrew businessman with a passion for money and hockey, founded the Deloro Mining and Reduction Company. In the 54 years the O’Brien family ran Deloro, it became an industrial powerhouse.They built a company town that revolved around the plant, which at its peak would employ 2,000 men, many of whom were bused in and out of Deloro, three times a day, from nearby towns. They built two schools, a hospital and a community hall. Clapboard houses sprang up beneath the maple trees that lined Deloro’s two main streets, Deloro Avenue and O’Brien Street.
O’Brien was a speculator, businessman and commissioner of theTemiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway. Four years before arriving in Deloro, he had purchased a silver claim in Northern Ontario near the town of Cobalt. But the silver was laced with arsenic, so O’Brien invested $75,000 in an experiment by Danish-born engineer Peter Kirkegaard to separate the two. The experiment worked and the Deloro smelter prospered as a result. The leftover arsenic was packed into 500-pound barrels and sold as pesticide across North America.
M.J. O’Brien, a gangly high school dropout, became a very rich man. By 1916, his personal worth had soared to $1.6 million. In the 1920s, Deloro struck a deal with the American inventor of Stellite, a durable new alloy made up of tungsten, chromium and cobalt — 55 per cent cobalt. Stellite was used to build British planes during the Second World War.
The Americans gave Deloro exclusive Stellite manufacturing rights in Great Britain and other countries in return for a steady supply of cobalt.
During the Second World War, Deloro processed ore from the Belgian Congo in Central Africa because German occupation had rendered a smelter in Belgium inoperable. The company opened a Stellite plant in Birmingham, England, to meet the demands of the British military.
Deloro’s fortunes plunged dramatically in the postwar years. Arsenic was replaced by cheaper, synthetic pesticides. Then the price of cobalt dropped substantially after the Korean War. Fifty-four years of corporate prosperity came to an end in 1961 when the Deloro Mining and Smelting Company (it had changed names in the intervening half century) shut down. But its legacy lingers. The 1988 consultant’s report on the history of the Deloro site concluded: “One of Ontario’s most successful smelting operations was also one of the province’s most notorious polluters. The production of this arsenic and the chemicals used in its processing led to massive site contamination. For almost a century, hazardous materials and chemicals have been handled and deposited on the site, especially with the establishment of the Deloro Mining and Smelting Company.”
George Osborne’s 1955 summer holiday was winding down when he turned to his wife, Patricia, with some important news. “I’m burnt for the last time,” he told her. “I’m going to quit.” Mr. Osborne had worked at Deloro Smelting and Refining for 20 years. He had been lucky enough to find work during the Depression, the only interruption being the four years he fought in Europe during the Second World War. He was on the front lines of the D-Day invasion, defusing landmines ahead of the advancing Allied army. He lost 35 per cent of his hearing in that battle, but managed to come home in one piece, fit and able to carry on at Deloro.
Arsenic — not landmines — would prove to be George Osborne’s nemesis. The fine, white powder burned out his nasal passages and left flaming red rashes in his armpits and his crotch, anywhere he sweated. “It nearly drives you nuts,” he says. “It’s like having the measles. You break out in little sores all over. You just itch and you burn.” Six years after Mr. Osborne quit Deloro to work at a new steel mill in the area, it shut down for good. He has watched dozens of former co-workers die from cancer — cancers that he, and others, believe were the result of years of chemical exposure. “If I hadn’t made the move, then I wouldn’t be living today,” he maintains.
For the first half of this century, arsenic was produced by the tonne at Deloro, a byproduct from the blast furnaces that purified gold, silver and cobalt. When the bottom fell out of the arsenic business, Deloro’s owners simply dumped it on their mine property. Eventually, the blue and orange tailings leached into the water table, along with other toxic metals such as cobalt, nickel, zinc and copper, according to documents filed in the current court action against the Ontario government.
Ted Bedore, now 78, figures arsenic would have killed him too had he not left Deloro. In 1955, after 14 years of work there, his weight had dropped to 128 pounds from his usual 170 or 180. His doctor told him arsenic poisoning would kill him if he didn’t leave. “My fingers would get to be three times their normal size, my face would swell up to the point where I could hardly see out of my eyes and my ears would be almost like bananas,” Mr. Bedore recalls. He collected arsenic from the “baghouse,” where it was brought from an adjacent smelter and stored in powder form — arsenic trioxide. Mr. Bedore drove one of the trucks that hauled away the substance.”There are places on the property where there are 30 to 40 feet deep of arsenic, ravines that we dumped into,” he recalls. They collected it in three-tonne dump trucks. “At one time,” he says, “we were running each truck eight or 10 loads a day.” The swelling caused by his exposure to arsenic has left him with permanent nerve damage. Today, he has almost no feeling in his mouth or hands. He can lift a near boiling pot off a stove without flinching. When he goes to the dentist, he refuses freezing. “Since 1955, my health has been pretty normal. A lot of people tell me they can’t believe I’m still living. Most of my former co-workers died of lung cancer, six or eight that I know of,” says Mr. Bedore.
The World Book Encyclopedia defines arsenic as “a semi-metallic chemical element. It is a deadly poison, and prolonged low-dose exposure to arsenic causes cancer in human beings.” It is, without a doubt, one of the most toxic substances on the planet. It burns the skin. It damages the digestive tract. It affects the production of red and white blood cells. It damages nerve function. Inhaling arsenic dust or gas has been linked to lung cancer. A certain amount of arsenic exists naturally in the environment and is not harmful. But when heated, treated, smelted or mutated into other forms it becomes a deadly poison to all forms of life.
Despite that, it has taken a long time for the notion to sink in that arsenic from Deloro posed a risk to the land, rivers and lakes around it — not to mention the people who worked with it. Unacceptably high levels of arsenic were first recorded in Deloro in 1959, when seven times the acceptable level (.35 parts per million versus the accepted .05 parts per million) was found in samples taken from the Moira River near the town. By 1974, the arsenic levels reached .70 parts per million — 14 times the acceptable level, according to a study by Trent University.
In 1970, Dr. Morton Schulman, the crusading Ontario MPP, visited Deloro after a resident wrote to him complaining her cows were dying from drinking arsenic-laced water from the Moira River. “I drove down to Deloro and found an amazing sight,” Dr. Schulman wrote in his 1979 book, Member of the Legislature. “400,000 tons of bright blue tailings, covering some 50 acres, were lying in a huge dump beside the Moira River. Streams of blue tinted water ran steadily from the dump into the river.” Dr. Schulman went back to Queen’s Park determined to do something to clean up the arsenic in and around Moira Lake. He was met with political opposition. The health and energy ministers in the Davis Tory cabinet issued this joint statement: “There is no evidence to substantiate charges by Dr. Morton Schulman that residents of the Moira River watershed are in danger.” Days later, Dr.Schulman was sent a leaked report from the Ontario Water Resources Commission that said the arsenic level was 10 times the acceptable level. The government vowed to investigate the company running the site with the intent of slapping it with a cleanup order. When it finally did — nine years later — Erickson Construction, a corporate cousin of the original O’Brien-owned smelting interest, declared bankruptcy and abandoned the property. The Ontario government took control of the land.
Both Dr. Schulman and Michael Rychlo, the author of a 1978 book,The Arsenic Papers, claim the cancer rate in Hastings County in the early 1970s was higher than the provincial average. The most recent reports by the Ontario Cancer Treatment and Research Foundation raise disturbing questions. Between 1976 and 1985, men in Hastings County had the fifth highest cancer death toll of the 60 census regions in the province (Hastings County’s women, who did not work in places such as Deloro, ranked 37th). Hastings ranked first in communities south of Sudbury, while the four most lethal sites were found in the mining and smokestack region of Northern Ontario around Sudbury, according to the Atlas of Cancer Mortality 1976-85. Similarly, men in Hastings also had the third highest lung cancer rate across the province behind Sudbury and Cochrane. As more recent evidence, the Atlas of Cancer Incidence 1980-91shows Hastings County men had the seventh highest cancer rate. Its men also had the third highest lung cancer rate behind Sudbury and Cochrane.
Dr. Lynn Noseworthy, Hastings’ medical officer of health, says a clear connection can’t be made between cancer and the Deloro plant. For one thing, tobacco smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. And not enough is known about the Deloro workforce.
At Deloro, it is difficult to draw an irrefutable link between an environmental problem and a specific set of health circumstances. Science begs to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt of a direct link between a particular toxic blob and a specific illness. Meanwhile, people like George Osborne offer first-hand anecdotal evidence: “All my friends, they died either of throat cancer or lung cancer. There’s only about a dozen of us left.”
|Ted Bedore and George Osborne walk along the western fence of the Deloro mine property. Inside, a brown brick water treatment plant filters arsenic from the groundwater before it can carry more pollutants into the Moira River. This is one of the many stopgap measures the government is taking to battle the pollution at Deloro. It doesn’t filter out all the arsenic but it does cut down on the amount flowing into the river. It’s an expensive process that isn’t sustainable in the long term.The two men stoop to examine the bits of black rock strewn on the ground near the outer edge of the fence. “That’s cobalt,” says Mr. Osborne, fingering the smooth, flat, black rock. “Probably radioactive.” They pause in a noticeable trench in the grass under a weeping willow tree. This is where the white and blue bungalow owned by Ted Galloway once stood.”That’s where they dumped it,” Mr. Osborne says, motioning to a similar grassy culvert on the other side of the fence. This is where the pile of radioactive rock that irradiated Ted Galloway’s house used to be.There are 100,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste on the abandoned Deloro site, most of it “slag” — discarded ore left over from smelting — according to a 1987 Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. inventory.
After the Second World War, Ted Galloway returned to his birthplace, the town of Spring Brook in Hastings County, with his warbride, Sylvia, a transplanted Londoner. He found work as a casual labourer, including a stint at Deloro in the late 1940s. Indirectly and unwittingly, he became part of the war effort once again. While he was fighting overseas, scientists in the American southwest were working to harness the energy of the atom, to build the bomb that would eventually decimate Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Manhattan Project relied on uranium shipped from
Canada — refined and processed at Eldorado Nuclear at Port Hope — to help build the bomb. But the refining process at Port Hope generated radioactive waste. Tonnes of it was buried around that town where, to this day, it poses a serious environmental threat. A lot of it was trucked to other locations. Some 5,000 tonnes were trucked to Deloro by a fleet of unwitting men, like Ted Galloway.George Osborne recalls the shipments from Port Hope in the early 1950s. “The workers weren’t protected at all,” says Mr. Osborne. They wore “coveralls with zippers” with a hood and what looked like light surgical masks. “Most of them didn’t wear gloves and most of the truck drivers didn’t even wear masks.” The radioactive slag contained some cobalt that Deloro’s owners were determined to squeeze out. The slag was heated in blast furnaces to separate the ore. Leftover radioactive rock was simply dumped around the plant.
The Galloway family’s big break came in 1964, three years after Deloro Smelting and Refining closed. The company, which owned much of everything in the town at that time, began to sell its houses, and the Galloways scored what they thought was the deal of a lifetime — a four-bedroom bungalow for $2,500. It would be the first and last home the family would own and where five of six children were raised. The house was adjacent to the Deloro site, the kitchen window facing the abandoned plant and slag pile. Sylvia Galloway had no idea the slag was radioactive. Their son, Barry Galloway, and his friends would play in the plant’s abandoned buildings, including the old brick facility that would one day become the water filtration works.
|In February 1975, Ted Galloway, a cigarette smoker since his teens and a converted pipe smoker in recent years, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Then in October that year, mysterious men from the government appeared at the Galloway house. One was from the provincial health ministry, the other from Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. They carried geiger counters, dull grey boxes the size of a loaf of bread with metal wands protruding from them.
They detected poisonous radon gas throughout the house — three and a half times what was deemed safe. The readings in Barry’s room were the highest. Barry, then 17 and the last Galloway offspring still living at home, was whisked away to live with his sister and her husband in the nearby town of Tweed.
The local public health officer slapped a closure order on the home. It read in part: “The reason for this Order is that persons who inhabit the said household premises are being subjected to excessive exposure to radiation with consequent risk of developing cancer of the lung … ” Eventually, the house was torn down. When it finally sank in, the truth made Ted Galloway angry, but not for himself. “He had the attitude we all go sometime,” Mrs. Galloway recalls. “He was very philosophical that way. But that it could bother his kids — the atomic waste part of it — he was very, very bitter about that. He was damned angry about it. He thinks they could have made people more aware of the danger that was there.” Sylvia Galloway sued the Ontario government, AECL, Eldorado Nuclear and the two companies that owned the abandoned mine, Deloro Smelting and Refining and Erickson Construction of Ottawa, which bought it in 1970 and abandoned it nine years later. Her legal aid lawyer fought hard. But by 1981, Sylvia Galloway got tired of fighting. She settled for $70,000, signing a waiver that absolved all of them of any liability. By the time she paid her lawyers, she had enough left to buy a small bungalow near Belleville.
Her memories from the era are now preserved in a yellowing scrapbook that contains clippings from newspapers and magazines and a clear plastic bag filled with stacks of letters from lawyers, hospitals, government agencies, concerned politicians and insurance companies. One clipping is an account of the inquest at which the Galloways’ lawyer presented a letter confirming the government suspected there was a radiation danger at Deloro as early as 1973.
Mrs. Galloway says she believes the company knew back in the 1950s it had radioactive waste on its property, and that it was unconscionable of them to sell off their old houses to unsuspecting buyers. “The company that sold those houses — I don’t think they had any right to do that when they knew, and they did know in those days, that there was a contaminant in those grounds and waters that could be harmful.”
When the truth finally came out, it cut to the core of everything Deloro stood for. The village would never have existed had it not been for the smelter. So some people refused to accept what the Galloways, not to mention the authorities, were telling them. Some people accused the Galloways of trying to bilk the system with their lawsuit. “People thought we were going to be millionaires, that that was why we were doing it,” says Barry. “And that made me feel guilty,” says his mother, “like I was taking from the government.”
BERNICE YOUNG WATCHED QUIETLY as they took their samples from her front and back lawn this past spring. “They had nice little instruments that bore down into the ground three to five centimetres,” says Mrs. Young, the village clerk for 25 years and a Deloro resident since 1951.
The Ontario government is conducting tests to ensure Deloro is as safe as its residents believe. In the first phase of the cleanup plan, a Toronto company tested soil and water samples in and around Deloro earlier this spring. Once the extent of the health and environmental risks is known, the government says it will come up with a plan to clean up Deloro once and for all — beginning as early as this fall. Ministry officials sound positive. Despite the allegations of the lawsuit — that the government has basically done nothing to clean up the Deloro site in the 19 years it has controlled it — they have had some success. The water filtration plant has reduced the amount of arsenic flowing into the Moira from 51.2 kg per day in 1979, to 3.7 kg in 1994.
But plenty of serious obstacles remain. It will take at least two years to complete any serious cleanup and cost $15 million to $18 million. The project would be orchestrated by a provincial ministry that has seen 40 per cent of its budget slashed and 750 jobs eliminated in the past three years. In a recent interview with the Citizen’s Weekly, Environment Minister Sterling acknowledged the obstacles: “I can’t say we’ll do it. I’ll need approval to get the money. But it will certainly have my advocacy behind it.”
Bernice Young figures the exercise is a waste of taxpayers’ money. Like a lot of people who live here, she is convinced the village is safe. “Flowers are growing. The grass is growing. Lilacs are in bloom.” Mrs. Young believes all the talk about Deloro these days is fuelled by self-interest: the politicians want to appear responsive; the environmentalists simply enjoy rattling cages; and those reporters just want to fill column inches. “Bad publicity sells papers,” she sighs. “Of course, it’s damaging if you want to sell your property … One terrible item that went in the paper said `Deloro is dying on the vine.’ Don’t put that in your paper!”
The common belief here is that Deloro has been immune to hazards generated within the site. The village’s drinking water comes from a well that is unaffected by the plant’s groundwater runoff. Traditionally easterly winds blew pollutants from Deloro smokestacks away from the village.
Doug Lynch’s house is about 40 metres from the plant. A handsome, white two-storey, complete with screened-in porch, it was the old manager’s house, once occupied by engineer Peter Kirkegaard. Mr. Lynch has lived here since 1963, when he bought as part of the same selloff in which the Galloways purchased their house. “I’m still alive,” he says. “It’s just a question of how excited you want to be or how paranoid you want to be.”
George Nelson says his biggest worry is unloading the general store he bought here 18 years ago when he and his wife dropped out of the Toronto rat race. “It was a nice little area, a nice little store, something to keep us busy before we retired,” says Mr. Nelson, 70. Three years ago, he closed the store, hoping to sell the property and buy a smaller apartment. A handmade sign hangs in the window advertising his current asking price, $69,900. He hasn’t had an offer in three years, and blames the Deloro mine controversy. “We’d like to do something else. We’re pretty much stuck here,” he says. “I think the people down south should be more concerned than we should be.”
Down south, at Moira Lake, into which the contaminated waters of the Moira River flow, they are more concerned than the residents of Deloro. That’s because those waters are in rough shape, according to the charges that make up the court case against the Ontario government.
EBI, the private environmental watchdog suing the government, says it hopes to prove that in 1996 alone more than 3.27 tonnes of arsenic entered the Moira and Young’s Creek, another water body flowing through the plant. It alleges there are toxic amounts of copper, zinc, cobalt and nickel leaching from the site. The EBI also blames Deloro for most of the toxic metals carried downriver to the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario.
John MacDonald bought a cottage on Moira Lake 30 years ago. Over the years, he has converted the rustic woodframe building into an impressive, modernized A-frame with a full basement and a third-floor addition. At 58, it is now his full-time retirement home. Every time Deloro gets written up in large metropolitan newspapers — whether it is cryptic references to the Manhattan Project or get-tough statements from the Ministry of the Environment — cottagers around Moira Lake feel dread, not anger.”There’s a lot of things hanging over our heads. This affects the value of properties, makes elderly people worried. They’ve been hearing these stories for years. Now we have stories coming out that relate to things which are very dangerous,” says Mr. MacDonald, president of the Moira Lake Property Owners Association, which represents 235 cottagers.”It’s just like somebody saying we’re going to drop a bomb, but we’re not sure if we’re going to drop it today or tomorrow.” The cottagers’ biggest fear, he says, is that a severe flood will sweep through Deloro and flush contaminants into the Moira River and down into the lake, rendering it useless for fishing or swimming. Losses would be enormous.
The argument usually advanced in situations like these is that past generations ought not to be judged so harshly for spoiling the environment for future generations. Government regulations weren’t as stringent. Public awareness was non-existent. For people like George Osborne, who witnessed the dumping of small mountains of arsenic and radioactive ore, that argument does not wash. He believes bosses should have known better. “They were just there to make the big profit,” he says. “They didn’t care about the men or the plant around them.” And he also blames himself and his fellow front-line workers for failing future generations. Environmental awareness was non-existent in the ’40s and ’50s, but something instinctively told the workers it was bad for the land around them. It was just that they felt powerless to do anything.”We needed work,” Mr. Osborne explains. “I had just come out of the service. I wanted to get my home together. I had a young wife and two small children. I had a lot of things to do, more than complaining about pollution. I had my family to consider. “We should have shut the smelter down then. If we had, we would have saved an awful lot of people’s lives. I could have ruined my own. I could have been thrown out of work.”
Even Bernice Young is ambivalent toward the company that employed her late husband. “What can you say? They walked away and left it. That’s why we have this negative publicity today.” Like so many other men, her husband Bruce found work at Deloro during the Depression. He never talked about his life there, but the hazards were obvious. “He was exposed to the dust,” she says, “from the refining, the rock, refining the ore.” In 1974, Bruce Young died from lung cancer at the age of 62. Mrs. Young has no doubt that he contracted it while working at the mine. “He worked right in it. It’s not only arsenic. It’s all your hard metals and everything,” she says.
The past is not something Barry Galloway can easily escape. In his final high school years, he became a social outcast. He was teased and kidded about radiation, about his family’s complaints. “You would think your neighbours would stand up for you,” he says. “They’re like a turtle. If they put their head in a shell, they think the problem will go away.”