Toxic waste: We need answers

By Paul Schliesmann

In a Brampton laboratory, rainbow trout died within an hour of being exposed to polluted water samples. Why should trout in Brampton be of concern to Kingstonians? Because the water samples that killed the trout were taken from the Cataraqui River at Kingston. As a result of those tests, the City of Kingston faces a charge of having contaminants leaking from its old grabage dump at Belle Park. It appears the environmental sins of past generations are coming back to haunt Kingstonians. Local environmentalists Janet and Doug Fletcher, backed by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, found what they suspected were toxic wastes spewing into the river. They commissioned the tests by the independent laboratory in Brampton, which detected the toxic chemicals benzene and chlorobenzene, as well as ammonia and heavy metals used in industry. Last Thursday, Whig-Standardreporter Sue Yangisawa went to Belle Park, where she found a crew of workers constructing what appeared to be a makeshift dike.The workers wouldn’t say who they were or what they were doing. Yanagisawa was told to contact municipal operations commissioner Brian Sheridan. Sheridan passed the reporter on to chief administrative officer Rick Fiebig. Fiebig said he didn’t know who the workers were or what they were doing. Yet the city had just issued a memo saying “remedial measures” were being undertaken at the site where the pollutants had been found. This kind of bureaucratic buck-passing is intolerable.Now the city must follow one of two possible courses of action. If city officials feel there is no pollution at the site, and that tests of their own prove there is no danger, then they can fight the charge. But if the charge is warranted, emergency measures should be taken immediately to clean up the site. Toxic leachate can not be ignored. The environment and the people of Kingston might be harmed by poisons in the water. Adding to the seriousness of the charge, Belle Park is the site of a municipal golf course and a children’s summer camp is operated just downstream from the source of the toxins. Residents have year-round dwellings on the water directly across from Belle Park in Pittsburg Township. Anglers fish the waters.
As city officials are quickly discovering, pollution charges carry international implications. A representative of the environmental group Great Lakes United says he will tell people in and around Clayton, N.Y., that they may be receiving water-borne toxins from Kingston. Ignoring this situation, or tying it up in lengthy court proceedings, will only hurt Kingston’s reputation and endanger more innocent people. Further questions demand answers: Why did it take two private citizens, the Fletchers, to bring this situation to light?
City officials were warned in a 1994 Ministry of Environment report that high levels of the toxins were likely filtering into the river. Why didn’t they act to clean it up or warn citizens about the pollution? The people of Kingston want answers and quick action.City must act quickly to deal with environmental lawsuitCity Solicitor Norman Jackson will appear in court on April 15 representing Kingston. By that time, city staff should be more forthcoming with information than they were last week.