Much of its time and energy focused on the cast of characters, Woolwich council would be better off concentrating on the core issues of contamination on the Chemtura property, says the chair of the environmental watchdog charged with monitoring the Elmira chemical producer.
While representatives of neither the company nor the Ministry of the Environment have been attending Chemtura Public Advisory Committee meetings, getting them back at the table is secondary to cleaning up the contaminants that continue to threaten ground and surface water, Dan Holt told councillors meeting April 21.
“As we speak, and one day before Earth Day, the Chemtura site is discharging hazardous chemicals to the natural environment via the east-side drainage ditch and into the Canagagigue Creek,” he said of concerns identified in a consultant’s report last fall.
That report, he reminded them, prompted the previous group of councillors to pass a resolution calling for quick action from the MoE. The township asked for a comprehensive analysis of the site’s pollutants within 60 days, with an action plan formulated within the following three months of the investigation.
That was in October. Not only was no action taken, there was no response.
That’s par for the course, said Holt, noting CPAC has been waiting for 16 months for the ministry to answer its question about what constitutes “clean” in relation to an order that Chemtura remediate contaminated aquifers under Elmira back to drinking water standards.
The 2028 deadline for ridding the groundwater of pollutants is likely a pipedream, he added, requesting that the township push for financial assurances from the province that the remediation will continue after that date.
Along with the inadequacies of the current pump-and-treat system for cleaning the aquifers, Chemtura is also failing to control other contaminants from leaching off its site, he maintained.
“CPAC believes that there is continual and significant off-site contamination of the Canagagigue Creek, primarily due to [a] drainage ditch which was installed in the mid-1980s and runs offsite and along the east side of the Chemtura property,” said Holt. “With this preponderance of evidence mounting, it is the firm belief of CPAC that the Chemtura site is an uncontained hazardous waste site.”
Councillors meeting this week picked up on the work of their predecessors, passing a motion to circulate CPAC’s hydrogeological consultant’s concerns with Chemtura’s work plan for investigating contaminants around the east side drainage ditch.
Holt’s call for action was echoed by environmental advocate Alan Marshall, who also addressed council Tuesday night.
“New revelations regarding east-side leakage into the neighbour’s property and then southwards into the Canagagigue Creek and the Grand River continue to unfold. These include ongoing fish consumption advisories for dioxin contamination, found only in the Canagagigue and the Grand River below the mouth of the Canagagigue. Nowhere else in Waterloo Region are there dioxin advisories,” said Marshall, whose sometimes abrasive manner and persistence are at the heart of some of the personality issues surrounding CPAC, though he is not a member of the committee.
He obviously rubs Mayor Sandy Shantz the wrong way, as she repeatedly interrupted the start of his presentation to insist Marshall remain “respectful,” and attempted to rebut some of the points he raised.
Marshall’s name came up during Shantz’s recent attempts to get the chemical company and the ministry to return to CPAC meetings.
Acknowledging Marshall to be a lightning rod for opinions, Holt argued the real reason the other parties walked away from the table was their reluctance to answer questions. Nor do they like the prospect of having to spend more money if CPAC’s discovery of more contaminants is properly investigated, he said in a later interview.
“They quit coming to the meetings when the questions got difficult to answer.” CPAC is still looking for those answers
He challenged claims the committee needs an overhaul – “CPAC is not dysfunctional” – saying such issues are a distraction, keeping the real problems from being front and center in the debate.
He does, however, expect changes when the committee’s current term expires next month.