Province battles pollution charges
One year after she helped convict the City of Kingston on pollution charges, environmentalist Janet Fletcher was back in court yesterday to see the Ontario government defend itself against charges of allowing toxic contaminants to leak into the water system near Belleville.It’s the first known time in Canadian history a provincial government has had to defend itself in court against pollution charges. Fletcher, along with the Environmental Bureau of Investigation (EBI), laid the charges. She is gravely concerned about the government’s failure to clean up the abandoned Deloro mine site.
“If I lived in Deloro, I would be scared to death,” Fletcher said in an interview last night.
Deloro, north of Belleville, is believed to be the most toxic dump site in Ontario. Tests dating back to 1995 identify continuous discharges of arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, copper, nickel and zinc from the abandoned gold mine into Young’s Creek and the Moira River. The Moira flows into the Bay of Quinte, which has been designated an area of concern under the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement due to high concentrations of arsenic from the site.
FLETCHER AND EBI DISAGREE
The Ministry of the Environment says the village of Deloro, just outside the mine site, is a safe place to live. Fletcher and the EBI disagree.
In May 1999, samples collected from the vacuum cleaner of a Deloro resident showed arsenic levels above the allowable standard.
“This was inside her home,” said Fletcher. “Her kids were crawling around on the floor in that.”
Fletcher accuses ministry officials of misleading the citizens of Deloro with the results of health risk studies released earlier this year. A clinical researcher at Queen’s University, Fletcher says the government’s health study “was not based on reality.” She refuses to accept the government’s assertion that Deloro is a safe place to live and says village residents were never told of a 10-year-old study that found the area severely contaminated.
“How safe would you feel with all that arsenic dust blowing in from those tailings?” Fletcher asks.
The Ontario government inherited the dump and its toxic contaminants in 1980, after the landowners went bankrupt.
Following 11 provincially-funded studies, the Ministry of the Environment has made scant progress in cleaning up the site or stopping the leakage, EBI alleges.
Brian Ward, regional director for the ministry, says $13 million has been spent to date containing the leaking dump site. In addition to filling in 20 to 30 mine shafts and covering arsenic-coated tailings, the ministry has installed a treatment plant that has been more than 99-per-cent effective in removing arsenic from the water. A system to contain contaminated groundwater has also been put in place.
The government is prepared to spend millions more to seal up the site so toxins can’t escape. Some small patches of contaminated earth in the village of Deloro will also be excavated and moved to the containment site.
“We are committed to the final clean-up,” Ward said in an interview from Ottawa last night. “There is major progress under way to finalize our plan and clean up the site.”
ONLY THE BEGINNING
The trial that began yesterday in Ottawa is only the beginning.
The EBI laid a second set of charges last year when it discovered radioactive waste leaking from the same mine site.
As recently as last November, EBI tests at the Deloro mine site showed uranium, radium and cobalt contaminating land to which the public has unrestricted access. Court dates have not yet been set for the radioactive waste charges.
The EBI is a project of the Energy Probe Research Foundation.
In conjunction with partners like the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, EBI investigates and prosecutes environmental charges.