Friday, August 29, 2003 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Northern N.B. too polluted for incinerator, group warns
Tests have found high levels of toxic metals in soil, vegetables, council says

By Chris Morris / The Canadian Press

Fredericton - An environmental group is warning that a toxic waste incinerator proposed for Belledune, N.B., would add an unacceptable pollution load to a region already over-burdened with environmental poisons.

David Coon of the New Brunswick Conservation Council said Thursday that tests show "disturbingly high" levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic in soil and vegetables from the Belledune area in northern New Brunswick.

Coon said monitoring information collected by Noranda, which has operated a lead smelter in the community for 35 years, shows dangerously high levels of toxic metals in soil, vegetation, crops and marine shellfish within a 16-kilometre radius of the smelter.

"Children are at particular risk," said Coon, noting the levels are higher than allowed under national and international standards.

"Not only do kids ingest more metals because of their hand-to-mouth activity, but their immature digestive systems mean they absorb more metals."

Bennett Environmental wants to build an incinerator in Belledune to burn contaminated soil. As well, the province hopes to construct a new coal-fired generating plant in the community, in addition to the large, coal-fired generator already in operation.

Coon said people in the area have been exposed to an "uncontrolled experiment" in toxic exposure and may already have irreversible health effects.

He said the provincial Environment Department has known about the soil results for years, but hasn't shared them with the Health Department.

Environment Minister Brenda Fowlie defended her department's handling of the data from Noranda, denying that the results are New Brunswick's "dirty little secret," as claimed by Coon.

"Since the mid-1990s, these results have reflected a downward trend," Fowlie said.

However, she acknowledged that data from 2002 indicate there may be contamination problems. She said Noranda is retesting its samples and if the data holds true, "it will be put in a report and shared with the Health Department."

Inka Milewski, science adviser to the conservation council, a non-profit environmental watchdog, said it's unforgivable that the New Brunswick government would sit quietly and do nothing about the alarming information it has received over the years concerning pollution in the Belledune area.

"You cannot rely on this province to tell you when you're at serious risk," Milewski said. "Belledune is the poster child for that problem."

Coon said there is sufficient evidence to reject the incinerator proposal.

He said it's time to evaluate the health of people in the surrounding communities, and force industry to clean up contaminated soils.

Companies are trying to take advantage of economic hard times in provinces like New Brunswick, proposing enterprises that would not be accepted in places with effective environmental protection, Coon said.

He said rules in the United States make it difficult for companies to build toxic waste incinerators in that country.

John Bennett, chief executive officer of Bennett Environmental, has said the incinerator won't be used to dispose of waste such as PCBs, but would be used to burn hydrocarbons.

At stake is a proposed $10-million plant to recycle soil that operates by burning off most contaminants and collecting much of the remaining pollution. It would create 36 jobs.

The company has reportedly already landed a $200-million, three-year contract to treat contaminated soil from a hazardous waste site in New Jersey and much of that soil would be treated in Belledune.

The plant would be similar to a controversial facility the company wanted to build in Kirkland Lake, Ont.

The Ontario plan was recently dealt a blow when the Ontario Environment Department rejected much of the company's data concerning human health and environmental impacts.