Harbour mess 'ignored'

The village may be left alone to deal with a problem likened to the Sydney tar ponds, Canada's worst toxic waste site

London Free Press
Wed., Jan. 7, 2009

Environment Canada has likened Port Stanley to the Sydney tar ponds, the country's worst toxic waste site.

And also to toxin-laden Hamilton harbour, which like Sydney has attracted tens of millions of dollars from both federal and provincial governments to clean them up.

The connection comes as concern grows that Transport Canada is near a deal to offload the contaminated harbour at Port Stanley onto the local municipality without involving the province and without cleaning it up. "I'm appalled because nobody is doing anything about it," said Port Stanley environmental activist Dan McNeil.

He said spending to fix the toxic sites at Sydney and Hamilton resulted from partnerships between the federal and provincial governments.

"And Port Stanley and Kettle Creek are ignored," said McNeil, a retired Canadian rear admiral who has unearthed federal documents exposing the extent of contamination of the water and soil at the Lake Erie harbour and in Kettle Creek.

At an Environment Canada website where the dangers of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are discussed, the following appears:

"At several sites in Canada, including the Muggah Creek in the vicinity of the tar ponds in Sydney harbour, Nova Scotia, and near a former oil gasification plant at Kettle Creek, Port Stanley, Ontario, populations of aquatic organisms have been adversely affected by contamination by PAHs."

It continues, observing PAHs in sediments in Hamilton harbour "have been associated with mortality of sensitive aquatic invertebrates."

McNeil is upset talks about divesting the port to Central Elgin are continuing under a gag order insisted upon by Transport Canada.


"They are close to a deal here," he said. "But that (divestiture) program does not contain a mandate nor the money for any environmental remediation."

A toxic blob of coal tar sits in Kettle Creek a few metres from the harbour from which a plume containing the toxin and mercury have been found reaching a Lake Erie water supply intake that provides drinking water to 100,000 customers in the region.

The Sierra Club of Canada, an environmental group that was heavily involved in the Sydney tar ponds issue, has expressed interest in the contamination at Port Stanley. Executive director Stephen Hazell said he's not surprised Environment Canada would link the two toxic sites. "It's a very similar sort of deal," he said, noting both have industrial wastes sitting at the mouths of creeks. Hazell warned local officials not to get "suckered in" by a federal government that is trying to unload a toxic harbour without cleaning it up.

He said Port Stanley residents could learn lessons from the Sydney experience, such as how reluctant Ottawa is to pay up. "Be very cautious about letting your municipality buy land from the feds," he cautioned. "It's like buying a pig in a poke."


Sydney Tar Ponds

In the harbour at Sydney, N.S., Canada's most contaminated site contains 700,000 tonnes of toxin-laden soil, waste from old coke ovens used in steelmaking for about a century.

A $400-million, 10-year cleanup is underway to which the federal, provincial and Cape Breton regional governments have contributed.

Hamilton Harbour

Identified as a Great Lakes environmental hot spot in 1987 by the International Joint Commission.

Massive amounts of coal tar (PAHs) were left behind by industry.

Last year the federal and provincial governments each put up $30 million toward a $90-million cleanup. The Hamilton Port Authority and the City of Hamilton are raising the rest. Plans are being finalized for the job, expected to be completed in 2015.

Port Stanley Harbour

The federal government is trying to unload the contaminated former commercial/industrial harbour but refuses to dredge it.

Aside from coal tar and mercury in the water, soil samples have revealed arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), toluene, selenium, heavy metals and other contaminants.

Transport Canada has placed a cone of silence on officials in Central Elgin and the province has remained on the sidelines.