The Toronto Star, February 7, 2000

Residents plan to sure over arsenic

Lawsuit alleges government failed to clean up Deloro mine site
Brian McAndrew

Brenda Brett was told to wear gloves last summer when she wanted to garden in the toxic soil around her well-kept home in the eastern Ontario village of Deloro.She says the advice came from provincial environment ministry officials as a precaution, even though a government study had concluded the arsenic-tainted soil in the village around a defunct gold mine and refinery posed no health threat to residents.

But Brett has little faith in government assurances.

The 54-year-old former Pickering resident – along with Tom Wells, who owns property in the village about 45 kilometres north of Belleville – has started a $50 million class-action lawsuit against the federal and provincial governments and companies associated with the mine.

“This is the worst case of bureaucratic bungling I have ever seen,” Brett said.

None of the allegations has been proved in court. Provincial officials refused comment.

“It’s before the courts, so we are limited to what we can say,” said environment ministry spokesperson John Steele.

The 200 residents of the two-street village learned only last summer about the arsenic in their soil – while government records showed the ministry had been aware of the contamination since 1987.

The lawsuit alleges in part that the government has failed to adequately clean up the site and village. It also makes a claim for compensation for lost property values. Brett says her home – for which she paid $112,000 11 years ago – is now worth just $50,000.

The 350-hectare site of the former mine and refinery has long been considered the most contaminated piece of land in Ontario – an admission made by the ministry several years ago after estimating it could take up to $30 million to stop piles of toxic waste from leaking into the Moira River.

The ministry took control of the site in 1979 when its owners declared they were unable to afford clean-up operations. It has since spent more than $12 million.

Soil in the town contains levels of arsenic 30 times higher than what the province considers to be an acceptable level for exposure, according to ministry tests. Exposure to small amounts of arsenic over a long period can cause nausea, headaches and anorexia. Larger quantities are deadly.

After the Deloro Smelting and Refining Co. closed the gold mine in the early 1900s, the company continued refining cobalt, silver and nickel from other Ontario mines for another 50 years. Pesticides were made from waste arsenic.

During the 1940s and ’50s, the company extracted cobalt from radioactive waste shipped from a uranium processing plant in Port Hope.

The company closed in 1961 and sold the homes in Deloro that it had built for its workers.

The lawsuit could eventually include several thousand people with homes stretching south along the Moira River to Moira Lake, said Toronto lawyer Doug Cummings, who has taken on the case. Class-action lawsuits can’t proceed until they have received approval from the Superior Court of Justice. No hearing date has been set.

Included in the lawsuit are the provincial environment, health, labour, and northern development and mines ministries. Also included are the federal departments of fisheries and oceans, energy, mines and resources and environment.