Ottawa

The creatures in the black lagoons

SUZANNE ZWARUN May 4 1981
Ottawa

The creatures in the black lagoons

SUZANNE ZWARUN May 4 1981

The creatures in the black lagoons

SUZANNE ZWARUN

Fully a decade ago, a consulting engineer’s report recommended a quick solution to the ominously growing problem of how to dispose of Western Canada’s hazardous wastes. So much for speed. Last week, with an estimated 260,000 tonnes of dangerous substances being produced annually in the West and the North, another consulting engineer’s report was released—and it seemed terribly déjà vu. Though it called for safe dumping facilities for unwanted industrial chemicals and compounds, Alberta Environment Minister Jack Cookson says such a plant will be built—but not until the midor late 1980s. Meanwhile, an Edmonton company ready two years ago to build a disposal plant is still in limbo, temporarily stockpiling hazardous materials, including the dreaded cancer-causing PCBs, in drums in a warehouse.*

“They’re playing politics,” says Brian Winters, district manager of Kinetic Contaminants Canada Ltd., which proposed the $12-million (now $30-million)

*Back east, the Ontario government announced plans last November for a 100-acre treatment and disposal plant near Cayuga, Ont., W km south of Hamilton. Hearings this summer will allow protests from area residents. disposal plant in 1979. “If Cookson actually said, ‘Let’s put a facility in,’ he could be committing political suicide. The general public is going to react.” In fact, the public has already reacted to Kinetic’s proposal. Alerted to the need by the 1971 report, the company commissioned a $250,000 feasibility report of its own and proposed a plant in Fort Saskatchewan, just northeast of Edmonton, to collect wastes from across the West and neutralize or destroy them. But Fort Saskatchewan didn’t take kindly to becoming the Glad bag for western wastes. Protests from residents prompted a government moratorium on the construction of any plants, the setting up of two hazardous wastes committees and a series of informational meetings and public hearings. Meanwhile, the four western, two territorial and federal governments hired Reid Crowther consulting engineers to do its $266,000 study of the problem.

The report recommended a treatment plant in each of the four western provinces and a regional burning facility in Alberta (which, at 100,000 tonnes a year, produces almost half the West’s total wastes). The report suggested southeast Alberta as the location for Western Canada’s chemical dump. “But we don’t pretend to know where exactly it should be located,” says Reid Crowther Project Director John Atkinson. “All concerned should be able to express their opinion. But personally, I think it should be away from people. I wouldn’t want to live next to it.” The provincial government’s Hazardous Wastes Implementation Team, on the other hand, tends toward putting the plant in the Edmonton area, where 65 per cent of the provincial waste is created, to lessen transportation hazards. And Vice-Chairman John Devereux is thoroughly reluctant to take on all the West’s wastes: “We haven’t ruled it out but we want to look after Alberta first.”

As time and a half goes on, long-bed dump trucks and tractor trailers are moving some hazardous wastes to landfills or corners of the sites where they’re produced; there they lurk and fester with all their noxious potential. Kinetic’s 5,100-square-foot warehouse 30 km south of Edmonton is almost full, and Kinetic could start building a disposal facility “tomorrow,” says Brian Winters, but it is starting expansion of the warehouse instead. “Every report since 1971 concurred with what the first report said, but the government has been treading water ever since,” Winters laments. “Why aren’t they doing something?”