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.

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