Province off to court
Kingston-area woman lays multiple charges against Ministry of Environment
Amanda Presutti and Jon T. Muldoon Pioneer Staff
A Kingston woman has laid criminal charges against the provincial government to stop toxic leakage at the abandoned Deloro mine site, north of Belleville.
Janet Fletcher, a Kingston area environmentalist, announced last Monday that she is charging the Ontario government, on behalf of the Environmental Bureau of Investigation, for failing to deal with major pollution. The Ontario government, represented by the Ministry of Environment and Energy, is charged with five counts under the Fisheries Act and three counts under the Ontario Water Resources Act. Fletcher alleges that from 1995 to present the ministry unlawfully permitted the deposit of toxic substance into the Moira River and Young’s Creek, impairing the quality of water and damaging fish habitat. “The minister (of Environment and Energy, Norm Sterling) has admitted that this is the worst site in Ontario. It is one of the top 10 hazardous sites in Canada,” says Fletcher, who is a member of the bureau, a citizens group formed to address pollution problems in Ontario.
Investigators and biologists at the bureau found highly contaminated surface runoff draining directly into the Moira River. The site is seeping waste with arsenic levels well above the severe biological effect level set in the Provincial Sediment Quality Guidelines according to bureau research. Arsenic is listed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act on the priority substance list because it is acutely and chronically toxic to aquatic life as well as humans. Toxic emission levels of copper, cobalt, zinc and nickel were also found at the site, according to bureau documents.
The parcel of land is a 650 acre property that has been in the process of restoration since the government took over 18 years ago. In 1980, the Ontario government exmpted itself from an assessment of the site cleanup project under the Environmental Assessment Act claiming that they had urgent work to do at the site. A ministry commissioned study in 1980 stated a plan that would have the site clean and non-hazardous by 1985. However, the government did not put the plan into effect. Instead they commissioned 10 more studies on the site over the next 17 years.
“I was as naive as most people that our environment was being protected – then I found out how much the ministry isn’t doing, how unhelpful they are and how much they’re not telling us. It makes me angry that the people that represent the public aren’t doing anything to protect the public. That’s their job,” says Fletcher.
Minister of Environment and Energy Norm Sterling earlier this year announced a massive cleanup of the lan. “Over $9,5 million has been spent on cleaning up the site,” says Jim Ritter at the ministry office in Northbrook.
Young’s Creek joins the Moira River and the river then flows into Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte. About 70 percent of arsenic in the Bay comes from the Moira River, the main source of which is the Deloro site.
Bureau investigators claim to have found the surface runoff in plain sight which according to the ministry had not been tested for several years. The investigators also say they found uncovered piles of toxic and radioactive waste at the site. “Every time it rains, the runoff from this waste is just running straight into the ground,” says Fletcher.
“The Moira River Conservation Authority supports the Ministry’s efforts to date,” says Lucille Fragoment of the MRCA. “The Ministry of Environment and Energy has been working on the site for a while,” she says. “We have been supporting them in their work.”
Stewart Elgie, a lawyer with the Sierra Legal Defence Fund in Toronto is donating his services fro the court case. If, Fletcher wins, Sierra’s court costs will be paid for. If she loses, they will swallow the costs themselves.
The charges laid by Fletcher and her organization could cost the government more than $1 million in fines as well as a court order to immediately commence cleanup.