November 22, 2008

Article in Oshawa This Week - Nov 19

Environmental group calls for landfill investigation
Waterkeeper says arsenic, copper, lead found on north Oshawa site

Oshawa This Week
By Jillian Follert
November 19, 2008

OSHAWA -- A local woman has teamed up with Toronto environmental group Lake Ontario Waterkeeper (LOW) to demand an investigation into a decommissioned landfill in north Oshawa.

Oshawa environmentalist Sarah Ross and members of LOW collected samples from the landfill's soil and water over the summer and say lab tests revealed higher than acceptable levels of arsenic, aluminum, lead, chromium, copper and other contaminants.

They believe these toxins are leaching into the soil and into Harmony Creek, which feeds Lake Ontario.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has said any leachate is contained to the site and that the orange "goo" residents have observed on the ground is harmless iron staining -- but Ms. Ross and LOW are not convinced.

"The ministry says it's contained on site but we have seen it running off the property into the creek," said LOW president Mark Mattson. "Whether it's private or public property, that doesn't relieve the MOE of their responsibility to protect the public. We're very concerned about the defensive position the MOE has taken, without even doing an investigation."

When it was operational, the 35-acre landfill accepted solid commercial and industrial waste, primarily from General Motors. A recent report from the MOE indicates about one million tonnes of industrial waste was landfilled on the site between 1957 and 1980.

A 1992 Ontario Municipal Board decision said the liquid waste dumped in the landfill included paint sludge, metal grinding waste, anti-freeze, brake fluid, hydraulic oils and isopropyl alcohol.

Alarmed by the lab results they received, Ms. Ross and LOW recently stepped up their efforts, submitting an application for investigation to Gord Miller, the Province's environmental commissioner.

They are alleging landfill owner Jim Sinclair -- a Mississauga developer who has been convicted of numerous environmental charges -- is contravening the Environmental Protection Act by allowing contaminants with adverse effects to be discharged into the natural environment.

"This leachate is finding its way into a public area where people's kids get dirt on their boots and their dogs drink from the creek," Mr. Mattson said. "This application has been a lot of money and a lot of work for us and we wouldn't make it a priority if we didn't think it was really important."

The application has been referred to MOE, which now has until January to decide if it will investigate.

The landfill, which sits next to Harmony Valley Park, has been the subject of scrutiny since last spring when the snow melted and dog walkers and cyclists began noticing an orange substance staining the ground and leaving an oily sheen atop puddles of water.

Ms. Ross was one of those dog walkers and is also a master's student in environmental studies. The local woman started a crusade to draw attention to the landfill, making presentations to councillors, delving into the site's history and starting a blog on the subject.

Just last week, MOE sent a report to Oshawa councillors, which said the ministry had issued a draft provincial officers order to Mr. Sinclair on Oct. 24, asking that the leachate system be repaired and that fences be erected around the site.

MOE spokeswoman Kate Jordan said Mr. Sinclair is now voluntarily complying and that he has already submitted a remedial action plan outlining steps that will be completed by Nov. 21.

These include repairing the seepage, erecting a fence and a future plan for ground and surface water monitoring.

"We'll review the action plan and make sure it satisfies the work that we want to be done," Ms. Jordan said, adding that the site is not a health threat. "All the monitoring that has been done to date shows no potential for off-site impact. The staining and seepage is all contained on the site."

Repeated efforts to reach Mr. Sinclair were unsuccessful.

"Because we don't think about future generations,
they will never forget us."

- Henrik Tikkanen -