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ERG REPORT Volume 1, No 2, Autumn 2001
POLLUTION FROM WASTE MANAGEMENT
It is apparent from research done by Quinte Watershed Cleanup that the problem of environmental pollution accruing from waste management practices is one which is in need of regulatory review. There are a number of examples locally where Corporations rather than the provincial Government seem to determine current standards of practice.
Quinte Health Care Corporation
In July 1999 members of QWC met with the CEO of QHC to again raise questions about waste management policy at the Corporation . Continued incineration of waste at BGH without any pollution controls in place was identified by QWC as a concern. The CEO indicated that local hospital waste incineration would eventually be eliminated through a future "redevelopment plan". In July 2001 when the CEO was contacted to follow up on the meeting of two years earlier he reported that the hospital continues to burn waste. He did not know how much PVC plastic is being burned. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a common material used in hospital practice in disposable items. It releases 75 known carcinogens when burned. (Catherine Coppin, MLT Mobile Lung Testing Ltd Vancouver, Globe and Mail, September 15, 2001)
At least one Ontario hospital is showing some initiative in waste management. At Cambridge Memorial Hospital IV bags made of PVC plastic are collected and sent for conversion to other plastic products rather than being incinerated. Since 1995 at that hospital 2.5 tonnes of PVC have been diverted to other uses. By 1998 the hospital was able to close their incinerator, one that "used to send billows of toxic smoke over the neighbouring Grand River". (Medical Post, September 18, 2001). Unfortunately similar sights continue to be seen regularly on the shores of the Bay of Quinte.
Sludge and Sewer Use Bylaws
In May Maureen Reilly (since appointed to a lectureship at the University of Toronto) and Elizabeth Christie (a lawyer formerly with the Sierra Legal Defense Fund and the principal counsel to QWC, the Ontario Cottagers Association, and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists in the Norampac Dombind issue) gave a presentation at the Picton Community Centre on the matter of sewage sludge and problems associated with its widespread use in the province as fertilizer on agricultural lands. This event was sponsored by the Safe Water Group of PE County, ("If we don't stand for something, we'll fall for anything") and QWC. Since then Ms. Reilly and SWG have each prepared detailed responses to Bill 81, the proposed provincial Nutrient Management Bill. This bill is intended in part to regulate future use of sewage sludge as fertilizer. SWG presented their position paper to a hearing of the provincial Committee on Justice and Social Policy late in September , and as well to a Walkerton commission hearing in Kingston.
The principle problems with sludge as fertilizer are two. First, the infectious disease aspect. The equivalent of sewage from 14,000 people as well as industrial waste discharges admixed therein are typically applied per 100 acres of farmland when a landowner agrees to participate in a sludge application program. Treatment at the STP only reduces the fecal coliform count in the sewage from 200 million to 2 million per ml. Therefore there is a problem with bacteria in the sludge and as well with viruses, protozoa and parasites which then leave the STP in sludge and are deposited on the fields. Ms. Reilly has a position statement published in the current edition of the Canadian Journal of Infectious Diseases, the scientific publication of the Canadian Society for Infectious Diseases. That society has called for a halt on the practice of sludge spreading until the issues can be resolved.
The other problem presented by sludge is chemical contamination from industrial discharges into the STP system. MISA (Municipal Industrial Strategy for Abatement) does not control this but rather has to do with control of discharges into surface waters in Ontario. Indeed MISA has actually caused the sludge problem as prior to MISA sewage effluent was simply discharged directly into rivers or lakes without treatment. This is no longer an acceptable practice under provincial MISA legislation. As a consequence sludge is accumulating on land throughout the provinces, whether in storage silos or on agricultural lands.
There are proposals for pelletizing, incineration, and dewatering of sludge for disposal in landfill as short term alternatives. Ms. Reilly is calling for long term policy development to require capture and elimination of chemicals at their industrial sources "up the pipe" prior to release into sewers, thereby eliminating chemical contamination of sludge. As such sewage sludge could actually be a useful product rather than a threat. This assumes that the microbiologic issues can be resolved through more optimal use of sludge digesters during the sewage treatment process.
Industrial discharges to sewers are theoretically controlled by the Sewer Use Bylaws of municipalities. However in many cases such as Belleville these bylaws are 30 years old, very outdated, and not enforced anyway. The MoE manager in Belleville told us that he has reminded the City on a number of occasions to update the local version. The City Engineer told us (in June) however that this matter is not one that has any priority for the City. The City of Toronto has recently adopted a very progressive SUB which could be used as a model. The City of Kingston has adopted the same bylaw with the unfortunate exception that industrial discharges are not as well controlled. Chemicals of concern which appear in sludge as a consequence of these discharges and which are then applied to farm lands are: metals (of which applications to provincial lands via sludge are regulated under the Environmental Protection Act), and other chemicals such as the persistent organic pollutants, which are not regulated.
A good example of the problem is the practice recently initiated by the City of Belleville of pumping groundwater effluent from the Meier's Pier Park hazardous waste site into the Belleville STP for treatment. This site is known to be contaminated by PAH's and metals, and was found by a health risk assessment (on three occasions, the last done very recently although not yet made available to the public) to pose a significant health risk to the community. The City has therefore tested the leachate from the site and has declared that "the level of contaminants is quite low in the material being pumped". Officials have decided that the leachate is safe enough to put through the STP as a means of disposal. The City has been reluctant to release the contents of the 3rd Meier's Pier Health Risk and Environmental Risk assessments to the public. The MoE has asked for it to be combined into one report, for "peer review". (Community Press, Sept 21, 2001)
Reformation at Norampac?
QWC is organizing a panel discussion open to the public and tentatively scheduled for the evening of Wednesday November 28 regarding the proposed Pulse Enhanced Steam Reformer to be built by Norampac.
Burning pulp liquor waste in the Steam Reformer is the corporation's latest answer to their long standing pulp waste disposal problem. At present the black pulp liquor continues to be dispersed, as has been the practice for a number of years now, by using it as a dust suppressant on the roads of the of the Bay of Quinte watersheds. This is a solution regarded by many as less than ideal as the material is contaminated by low levels of persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins. These chemicals are inevitable by products of the pulp and paper industry when chlorine is used in the bleaching process.
Relations between the regulator (MoE) and the proponent are frosty at best as the two parties, along with the citizen's coalition, have been meeting regularly and frequently in court over the past five years. The proponent has manoeuvered in every legal direction to postpone the day when they will be forced to discontinue the application pulp liquor waste over provincial roads.
Now Norampac has futher complicated the situation by announcing that the Steam Reformer can not only handle pulp waste but all and sundry other forms of hazardous waste as well as sewage sludge, medical waste, and municipal solid waste.
According to a speech by Norampac manager Gary Hodgins to a local service club in August, "all the permits are in placethis is ground breaking technologyfor which Quinte will serve as the testing groundsfor the first commercial application in the worldof the most remarkable technological innovation of the century...which will convert all kinds of biomass including hazardous wasteinto nothing more than distilled water, carbon char and sodium carbonate." (Community Press, Aug 10) .The predicted capacity of the facility would be about 115 tonnes per day.
This claim for the environmental purity of the process seems incredible however and there appears to be no data available to support it. An engineer with the Ontario MoE Standards Branch who reviewed the engineering aspects of the project prior to its approval reported that no data on dioxin emissions, the very chemical that has prompted the search for an alternative disposal process in the first place, is available. Furthermore no data on air emissions or chemical content of the residual char has been made available for review.
Because the cost of building (and operating) the facility is so high ($35 million , U.S?) the proponent will be very interested in accepting externally generated waste to defray the cost of their investment in the project.
The Steam Reformer uses a two stage process wherein solid or liquid waste is first converted to gas in the absence of oxygen. In the second stage this gas is burned for energy generation. To the casual observer this is rather reminiscent of waste incineration. Incineration is infamous across the continent and around the globe as a process which generates a multitude of pollutants which are then released to the environment via a smoke stack in gaseous form to later precipitate downwind on the surrounding country side, or are embodied in the significant amount of ash or char which is left behind at the end of the process and need to be disposed of as hazardous waste.
Unfortunately the public health implications of the construction of such a facility for those living downwind of its smoke stack i.e. a sizeable proportion of the residents of Eastern Ontario remain largely undetermined.
Furthermore there is a difference of opinion between the proponent and the regulator as to what type of waste the facility is permitted to handle. In a reply to a letter sent to the Minister of Environment by ERG, Michael J Williams, Director of the MoE Environmental Assessment and Approvals Branch wrote (Sept 14, 2001) wrote that "the MoE regulates Norampac Inc's pulp waste management system in Trenton, under amended Certificate of Approval (Air) Number 1881-4QTKFJ issued under the Environmental Protection Act. This certificate allows Norampac to process their own pulp liquor waste. According to the ministry files, Norampac does not have approval to process hazardous waste materials at their Trenton facility. Should Norampac Inc propose to process hazardous waste material, they would be required to obtain approval under the EPA. Should the process involve incineration, a hearing before the Environmental Review Tribunal would be required before approval could be provided."
(Presumably this Tribunal would be the same one which held hearings and heard appeals in the matter of the operation of the MRR hazardous waste incinerator in Cornwall last year. This technology had not been able to meet EPA standards for operation in the United States for treatment of high level hazardous wastes. However the proponent managed to convince the Tribunal that the facility is safe for operation in Ontario despite substantial arguments against the proposal made by citizen's groups at the hearings. The facility is now open for business burning high level pcb wastes, pvc electrical wastes and other toxic materials .)
To this end QWC thinks it would be helpful to sponsor a panel discussion on the matter to answer the following questions: Is this Steam Reformer a type of incinerator? Will the facility once constructed ostensibly only for the purpose of pulp liquor disposal inevitably lead to the use of the facility for general hazardous waste disposal despite the current protestations of the regulator to the contrary? What would the public health implications of such an expanded facility be? What would the impact of such a facility be on the local Quinte Waste Solutions program of High Grade Waste Reduction, which has been very successful to date? What is the evidence to support the proponent's claims for the environmental safety of the process?
At a similar panel discussion held a dozen years ago in October 1989 and sponsored by the BGH medical staff the pros and cons of a proposed energy-from-waste incinerator to be built in Belleville were reviewed in a well attended public session. Prior to the inquiry there was great enthusiasm in the community for the facility based on the claims of the proponent. However at the end of the three hour panel discussion it had become very apparent that there were serious potential public health and economic problems associated with such a project. The proposal was quickly dropped. Proceedings of the Inquiry were published and made available to the community for the record.
Support and sponsorship by individuals or groups for the upcoming November event is now being invited. Please contact Mannfred Koechlin in Belleville.
Nortel toxic blob
Another public meeting occurred in June, this one sponsored by Nortel Corp of Belleville, a billion dollar operation. The subject was a blob of TCE (trichlorethylene, with some PCB's mixed in) recently discovered underground on Nortel property. As of June this blob was sitting in a free liquid product form at a depth of about 30 feet having trickled out of drums of waste which were buried years ago in an aquifer located on Nortel property. This aquifer was apparently an old abandoned stream bed which at one time must have flowed either to the east to the Moira River, or to the west. This unfortunate geological circumstance suggested the possibility of future dissemination of the chemicals into the ground water or surface water via the aquifer.
Investigation by Golder Associates, environmental consultants to Nortel when the property was to be sold to a local holding company for management, found some elevated levels of TCE south of the Nortel property. Private testing found the same at residences on Palmer Road. However the Nortel consultant has concluded that neither of these are related to the toxic blob, but in the case of the southern property contamination are related to a local problem which occurred over the long term at the south east corner of the Nortel plant. In the case of the Palmer Rd area "background contamination" of the environment by TCE was considered to be the source rather than dissemination from the toxic blob. The consultant stated that there are "no health or safety issues" accruing from the blob and that the chemicals will never reach the Bay of Quinte. However they did not seem to have considered the issue of possible east-west migration through the porous aquifer rather than north-south through bedrock as was their principal focus.
The MoE were present at the meeting and seemed to be taking a passive role in the matter. Nortel repeatedly stated that it intended to do the "right thing" although it was not clear that the right thing included remediation of the site by evacuation of the blob. In contrast in a similar situation at Rednersville a few years ago the MoE took a much more active role by insisting on and overseeing site remediation .
PRINCE EDWARD BAY.shorelines under pressure
Development proceeds at a rapid pace around Prince Edward Bay. Although hitherto somewhat remote Cressy Point and Long Point are now becoming more familiar to the public. Vineyards and retail wineries are being established in North Marysburgh. The shoreline of Smith's Bay including Pickerel and Morrison's Point are being developed with a combination of seasonal and permanent residences. Van Dusen's Point remains agricultural land for the present. The woodlands of McMahon Bluff remain intact although apparently in private hands. More shoreline and sub shoreline residences are appearing along South Bay. The bay itself has been named an historical Marine Heritage site with a focal point being the South Bay Marine Museum. SUV's brave the wilderness road of the Prince Edward Point National Wildlife area.
Along Long Point on the Prince Edward Bay side a number of breaches have been made in the Black River/Trenton formation limestone escarpment which forms the northern shore of the Point. These allow boat access for landowners with residences along the top of the escarpment.
This escarpment is a distinctive natural geological feature which is some 500 million years or more old, being one of the oldest layers of sedimentary rock in the southern Ontario series. As such it is not likely to re-form any time soon and one wonders how sensible it is to knock holes out of the scarp face for the purpose of recreational access. Taken altogether the escarpment virtually defines Prince Edward County as a distinct entity. However the County of Prince Edward seems to have little influence over the rights of land owners in this regard.
Waupoos Island, largely agricultural, is also seeing some shoreline development. There is only one small area on the eastern shore of the island which is zoned "environmental protection". This zone includes a woodland and small subshoreline wetland.
Gone Missing from PE Bay..the Common Tern
One disappointing recent observation about the wildlife of Prince Edward Bay is the complete absence this year of perhaps one of the most striking birds amongst all those found in the PE Bay region, namely the Common Tern. One of nature's marvels of beauty and speed and a member of the gull family, the Common Tern was fairly common last year but was not seen at all this year. The reason is a matter of speculation. Perhaps competition for nesting sites with ring billed, herring and Bonaparte's gulls was a factor. Perhaps there was an outbreak of disease in the population.
However this reminds us once again of the importance of shorelines in sustaining populations of these wildlife. Although Waupoos Island is largely given to hay cropping and sheep grazing some of the sections of shoreline are likely used by breeding birds. Also along the north west shore, the head, and east and west bays of Waupoos Island there are areas of marsh and aquatic plant growth just offshore which are likely important for bird and fish populations.
The Bay of Quinte, particularly in the upper Bay west of Massassauga Point, provides an example of the "hardening" of shorelines which occurs as development of shorelines proceeds. This is an example that Prince Edward County planners would do well to examine for its effect of wildlife habitat.
The International Joint Commission of the Great Lakes in its 1999-2001 Priorities Report, (Chapter 3, the Council of Great Lakes Managers) notes that "The most significant development issue in the Great Lakes Region is the virtually uncontrolled sprawl of low density, residential areas and other development(There is) an ongoing pattern of tax based subsidies to developers by municipal governments, eager to see growth at any cost.There has been a significant trend toward the extensive construction of seasonal, second homes and recreational cottages. This trend is now shifting toward permanent residences in rural areas as the leading edge of the baby boom generation approaches retirement ageAlong the lake shores and tributaries of streams shoreline residents act to protect their real estate from wave and flood damage by hardening the shoreline with concrete, gabion and other shoreline covering. Extension of shoreline protection, sometimes coupled with piers and abutments, alters natural functions along the shoreline. This has been the case for much of the north shore of Lake Ontario, and has led to the permanent loss of once productive beachesRapid population growth, intensive industrial and agricultural activity and sprawling urban development have result in significant stress to the nearshore ecosystem of the Great Lakes. Nearshore waters continue to be polluted, and in some cases have become severely contaminated, from sanitary sewage, industrial toxic substances, and urban and agricultural runoff. Wetlands and other natural habitat areas within the nearshore ecosystem are under threat of destruction and alteration by increasing urban sprawl and second home cottages Market place incentives that would promote more sustainable development, such as full cost, user pay development charges or impact fees, are inconsistently applied by different jurisdictions. At the same time many jurisdictions believe they should compete for the short term jobs and tax revenues that come from new development. Direct and indirect subsidies for new development through the public provision of roads, water and sewage treatment facility mask the real long term economic and environmental consequences of urban sprawl and continue to favour unsustainable development.
Also missing the South Bay Osprey
Also missing from Prince Edward Bay this summer was the resident Osprey hawk. Last year the species was a frequent sight on and around South Bay. Unfortunately an Osprey was reportedly found dead in the Black River area last fall, possibly the South Bay bird. These hawks need tall trees or posts with nesting platforms to reproduce successfully.
AndMissing from Eastern Lake Ontario the demise of the American Eel
The American Eel appears to have been driven close to extinction in Lake Ontario. This fascinating species, formerly a significant species for the local commercial fishery, has an interesting biology. The young are spawned in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean The juvenile "elvers" then make their way up the Gulf Stream and separate into two populations, one heading across the Atlantic to Europe and the other heading east up the St.Lawrence River and eventally metamorphosing into adults in Lake Ontario. After remaining there for perhaps fifteen years and growing all the while they then head back down the St. Lawrence and return to the Sargasso to spawn and die.
In the 1970's and 80's the MNR recorded daily counts of between 10 and 30 thousand per day passing through the fish ladder at the Moses Saunders dam in Cornwall as the eels headed upriver to Lake Ontario.In the last decade however numbers have fallen off drastically, to the point that this year only 30 per day were counted passing through the ladder. There was an active eel fishery (not to be confused with the lamprey) in Eastern Lake Ontario into the early 90's. According to Susan Peterson in her 1995 book Ariel's World, an Exploration of Lake Ontario the eel fishery based at PE Point Harbour was still active although in a much reduced state at that time. However catches were down and the market had declined, possibly due to awareness in the European and Asian markets that the Great Lakes eel was contaminated with chemicals. Quotas were established over the past five years in an attempt at protection but despite this the species seems to be disappearing.
Reasons for the decline are unclear. Overfishing of the juvenile elvers along the east coast and of the adults in Lake Ontario may be one explanation. Also chemical contamination with PCB's occurred in the species in Lake Ontario. These may interfere with reproductive capacity of a variety of species.
Thus the American Eel seems to have joined the Atlantic Salmon and Sturgeon which disappeared from the lake at the turn of the century, the Lake Trout which disappeared in the sixties (and has not reappeared despite a restocking program), and the Whitefish which have been in serious decline in part related to the arrival of zebra mussels in the last few years. These mussels have affected certain zooplankton on which whitefish rely as a food source. The Walleye fishery has also been in decline. The small remnant commercial fishery in Prince Edward Bay has turned to perch and pumpkinseed sunfish which are caught using gill nets. Thus there has obviously been quite a biological shift within the waters of Lake Ontario over the past one hundred years. As the new century dawns the great days of the Lake fisheries at Point Traverse Point have gone.
The Pleasant Point controversy is providing a reprise of one of the great environmental battles of the sixties when Judge Glendenning of the Provincial Court oversaw a long engagement between developers of what is now the Sandbanks Provincial Park and environmentalists who wanted to save the sand dunes. In that case a cement company had already removed about half of the volume of sand from the dunes there and had every intention of removing every last grain in their ongoing quest for total resource extraction. Environmentalists however had the foresight to question the longterm wisdom of this project. Ultimately the forces of reason prevailed and the remaining sand dunes and beaches was preserved for posterity. We are all in their debt. Is there anything more beautiful than a view of Sandbanks and Lake Ontario as the winter ice encroaches on its beaches or as the summer sun sets over the dunes to the west?
Now developers in a bold and arrogant stroke taken in order to access a development property at Pleasant Bay have opened a road along the western shore of the County through another unique and delicate sand dunes system. Fortunately the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists taking up the gauntlet in the matter have gone to the City Council and stated their case. As the County Weekly News reported (August 31,2001) "The silence in council chambers was deafening following a heated deputation outlining possible environmental implications of a planned 80 room $3.5 million resort for a 60 Acre peninsula know as Alexander Island. The access road of concern is along a sand spit, is narrow and one km long, and is on Crown land identified by the MNR as a "dynamic beach" containing a "rare eco site" and environmentally sensitive bird migration area. Despite lack of a permit the developer has already carved out the proposed route using a bulldozer earlier this summer, plowing through several dunes and spots of vegetation along the provincially owned spit". The silent response of City Council was telling. Sounds like exactly the sort of problem that the IJC is referring to in the piece quoted earlier. The IJC Council (of Resources Managers) at least would loudly applaud the PECFN for raising the issue.
Lake Ontario Keepers
The Lake Ontario Keepers, connected to Robert Kennedy Jr's River Keeper network and headed by environmental lawyer Mark Mattson, visited the Bay of Quinte and Belleville in August in their vessel Angus Bruce , met with citizens and examined some local polluted sites. Their purpose is the identification of ongoing sources of water pollution around Lake Ontario. They made their first tour of the north shore of Lake Ontario this summer starting in Kingston and ending at Hamilton Harbour. Locally here they collected water samples from the Bay of Quinte offshore from the old Bakelite site where phenols were used as a feedstock when the plant was operating. The site is now closed and has largely been remediated according to the MoE. Although there was a question as to whether there might be ongoing phenol leakage into the Bay from the site the Keepers did not find any such chemicals in their water samples
The Walkerton inquiry which has focussed the public gaze on issues of water quality concluded late this summer with the presiding judge now having to make sense of it all. The Chief Coroner of Ontario weighed in after a cluster of deaths occurred due to bacterial contamination of water supplies. He noted that a naïve "climate of trust" has existed on the part of the public with respect to water quality issues and that this needs to change. We suspect that this applies equally to microbiologic and chemical water contamination issues.
American Environmental Health Studies Project
The first board meeting of the newly reconstituted American Environmental Health Studies Project Inc took place in upper New York State in September. The history of the organization is that it was originally formed by two citizens in Knoxville, Tennessee a number of years ago to investigate and support workers and citizens injured in the course of operations and experiments done by the U.S government at a nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The newly reconstituted organization has a twelve member board of directors. The mission of the Project is to serve communities by investigation, interpretation and alerting in matters of environmental health.
(Continued at ERG Report, Vol 1, No 2, Part II