Landfill leaves dirty legacy
While the province of Newfoundland and Labrador has recently announced it will close the controversial New Harbour dump permanently, a local resident says he’s awaiting the results of a federal investigation into the dumping of PCBs at the site.
The province announced Nov. 12 the New Harbour landfill is permanently closed and has been so since Sept. 26, with waste now going to the regional integrated waste facility at Robin Hood Bay.
New Harbour resident Allan Williams, who has led the campaign to have the dump cleaned up said the entire affair has been a “coverup,” but he’s waiting to see what comes of the federal investigation. PCB-contaminated material was removed from two sections of the dump this year and in 2008.
“I never did call for the closure but I secretly wanted it closed. But I left that up to the people to decide,” said
Williams. “ What I wanted was the damn place run in some kind of organized manner. There’s a lot of damage done in there, you know.”
PCB-contaminated transformer parts were dumped at the site in the middle of the night in the 1980s.
A press release from the provincial government says there is work being done to remove metals, tires and other material, and to cap the remaining waste.
“I am never going to be satisfied until all this PCB waste that was put there is removed from that site,” said Williams, who credits environmental group Friends of the Earth with helping him pressure the government into launching an investigation.
“ What bothers me now, they’re talking about levelling this out, compacting the garbage, putting some kind of synthetic cap over the top of it, and apparently digging a ditch around the dump to stop water from entering the top and also stop water from entering the dump and toxins from leaving it,” he said. “To me, that’s a harebrained scheme. I don’t accept that. That’s like taking a five-gallon bucket and putting a cap on it and taking the bottom out of it. If it’s not lined down with bedrock, I just can’t see that ever stopping anything down there. You can’t keep water from entering that site, and you certainly can’t keep it from moving out, not unless the whole site is lined from bottom to top.”
Bea Olivastri, the CEO of Friends of the Earth’s Canadian branch, said the environmental group was pleased to learn of the federal Environment department’s investigation into the site.
“Such an investigation may lead to prosecution, so it’s being kept confidential. Not by us, but by government inspectors,” she said, adding that her group helped Williams frame his request for an investigation.
“The fact that the site itself has now been closed down, basically, doesn’t lessen the importance of the federal investigation that’s ongoing and the opportunity for both direction to clean up hazardous issues, and potential prosecutions,” she said. “The closure shouldn’t affect that at all.”
Olivastri said the investigation also requires that the minister of environment or a representative regularly update Williams on the investigation’s progress.
“It appears to us, through Allan’s work, that there are illegal substances ... that should not be there, that are not adequately managed,” she said, adding that although the investigation has been launched under PCB regulations, it appears there could be other contamination problems there as well.
“For them to proceed to close out and cap the site as if there’s no further activity likely seems premature,” she said, but she said she doesn’t think the cleanup would compromise the investigation.
“It needs to be clear that there’s a continuing interest in dealing with this dirty legacy and worrisome legacy of transformers and perhaps other materials that were not appropriately managed in that landfill. They shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” she said. “This is what we know about serious, dangerous pollutants like PCBs: they don’t go away. They become health issues for the community.”
The infamous New Harbour dump has finally closed, but a federal investigation into the dumping of PCBs at the site is only beginning. The probe could lead to the clean-up of hazardous issues and possible even prosecution.