Sept 20 2001

Kingston Whig-Standard

Pollution group cries foul

An aggressive environmental watchdog group has launched an investigation, accusing the Ministry of Environment of failing to stop Kingston from polluting the Cataraqui River with raw sewage.”To decide to just let it discharge into the river and deal with it as a low-priority issue is totally unacceptable,” said Mark Mattson, a lawyer and executive director of the Environmental Bureau of Investigation.

Wednesday, Mattson examined a storm sewer outlet on the west bank of the river at the south edge of the Belle Park golf course.

“I’ve never seen this and I’ve been here 20 times in the past couple of years,” Mattson said.

A concrete pipe, roughly 1.5 metres in diameter, is spewing a vile-smelling mixture of brownish-grey liquid, excrement and toilet debris directly into the reedy river bank.

Mattson, who has been pursuing and prosecuting polluters for the past four years, visited the site Wednesday after The Whig-Standardrevealed that more than 300,000 litres of foul fluid is pouring into the river each day from the pipe.

“This is the first time I’ve actually seen raw sewage flowing into Lake Ontario,” Mattson said.

The Ministry of Environment’s abatement department in Kingston has the primary responsibility to monitor the city’s sewer operations.

“We’ve known about it for a while,” said Bob Michea, a spokesman for the department. “We’ve sampled it, we required the city to investigate it.”

Results of the testing aren’t yet available.

“This is no longer an abatement issue,” Mattson said. “As far as I’m concerned, abatement has failed to deal with this problem. This is really an investigation and enforcement issue.”

The discharge might contain a host of contaminants, including E. coli bacteria, Mattson said.

His organization, a nonprofit group that played a key role in the prosecution of the city over a leaky garbage dump, along with local activist Janet Fletcher, took samples Wednesday.

“We’re going to have someone here as often as possible until this is stopped,” Mattson said. The city should be required to stop the pollution immediately he said, or face legal consequences.

“They won’t do anything unless they’re forced to,” he said.

Mattson said it may take two weeks to get lab results from the samples he and his staff took.

Mattson also called the ministry’s Spills Action Centre in Toronto, a clearinghouse for environmental emergency reports, noting that his call didn’t seem to generate any response.

“I don’t see anybody down here,” he said.

He is skeptical of the city’s claim that the discharge from the pipe, known as the Kingscourt storm-sewer outfall, is the result of improper connections of sanitary sewer lines from homes and businesses into the storm sewer pipe.

The head of the city’s environment department, Paul MacLatchy, has said the city will start looking for the source of the sewage in about two weeks.

MacLatchy said the Kingscourt sewer pollution is an old, ongoing problem that is now highly visible because of the extremely dry summer. The sewage is usually diluted by runoff.

Four other storm sewer outlets in Kingston have the same problem, he said, but the Kingscourt pipe is one of the biggest and serves a large catchment area.