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HARRIETSFIELD WELL WATER CONTAMINATION LEADS TO HISTORIC PRIVATE PROSECUTION
By Cori Marshall
Residents of Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia have lived with unsafe drinking water for over a decade. The source of the contaminated water is the site located at 1275 Old Sambro Road in the Halifax suburb. Over the years, the site has been home to an automotive salvage yard, and construction and demolition (C&D) recycling facilities, known as RDM Recycling.
According to Nova Scotia Court records as early as July 2002, a Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) review of the groundwater monitoring conducted by RDM indicated that "monitoring wells exceeded drinking water guidelines for turbidity, colour, pH, Iron, manganese and uranium." The report also pointed to "off-site impacts to both Shea Lake and residential wells."
Harrietsfield resident, Marlene Brown, said that the experience "has been horrible, it's on your mind constantly." Residents have been supplied with bottled water from a church in the next community. Brown added that this has been the situation "going on four years now."
Brown informed us that the community's water problems predate the arrival of RDM Recycling. Brown said that there were environmental impacts stemming from "the uranium exploration in the 80s." Brown added that "40 wells out of 92 were contaminated, [and] for ten years water was trucked in," for the affected residents.
1992 the water that was being provided to homes with contaminated well water "was cut off because the level of uranium [concentration] was raised," in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. Some residents were able to afford purification systems while others continued to drink the water.
Brown underlined that in 2003 "43 wells within 500 metres if the C&D recycling facility had the water tested." According to Brown "at least 42 of the wells had high concentrations of heavy metals." Some homes had had concentrations of uranium that were overlooked twenty years earlier.
Court records state only that "domestic wells [were] exhibiting elevated concentrations of sulphate and boron." The NSE required that "RDM submit a Remedial Action Plan." The company did so and it was approved BY Nova Scotia Environment.
One key component of the RDM plan was a water monitoring program. Brown said that the "eight homes downgradient of the site were tested four times a year, while the other eleven homes were only tested one day out of the year." An NSE response to an RDM request to diminish the frequency of testing stated: "all seven domestic wells located downgradient of the site are considered likely or very likely influenced by a groundwater plume sourced from the site."
The other component is a "one-time disposal of stockpiled material on the property in an engineered containment cell."
Court records indicate that early in its operations, RDM began to accumulate "stockpiles of C&D waste." The range of non-recyclable material was made up of gyprock, carpet, tires, and appliances. Estimates were "120 thousand tonnes of [C&D waste] material were disposed of in the containment cell."
The contamination is so bad that it has affected the pipes and fixtures to the point where Brown said she is only able "to take quick showers." The problems are not limited to the plumbing, there have possibly been health issues linked to the contamination.
Brown said one of her neighbours, a man who had lived in his home for 65 years, "was diagnosed with liver and kidney disease." One afternoon this neighbour drove his car across the street and handed Brown a letter, which said that "he blamed the water," for his condition. When Brown's struggle becomes too much she draws inspiration from this encounter, noting that "when he was getting into his car, he turned and shook his fist saying, ‘you go get those bastards'."
Brown said that it is the suffering of and lack of compassion for community members that have driven her to stand up undertake a private prosecution of the recycling company.
We also spoke with Jamie Simpson, Lawyer for the private prosecutor in the case. Simpson said that the prosecution is being brought under two sections of the Nova Scotia Environment Act, "Section 67.2 which says that it's an offence to release a substance into the environment that causes or may cause adverse effects, [and] Section 132.1 if you are issued and order you must comply with that order."
Simpson said the idea behind the Private Prosecution was that in "other provinces the technique had been tried for environmental offences, it had never been tried in Nova Scotia for an environmental issue and we thought let's try it."
Simpson added that "in 2010 Nova Scotia Environment issued a Ministerial Order against the companies involved, and the companies appealed the order." Court records show that RDM was "ordered to remediate the area, and undertake a $10.6 million cleanup."
An NSE response to an RDM request to diminish the frequency of testing stated: "all seven domestic wells located downgradient of the site are considered likely or very likely influenced by a groundwater plume sourced from the site."
RDM never complied with the order and the province never enforced it. Simpson suggested that "even though [the order] was in appeal, [NSE] could have still enforced it." Simpson said that "the legal process dragged on for six years, so there was nothing happening in terms of trying to clean up the site, [and] residents were still faced with the same situation."
Simpson highlighted that "the appeal resulted in [two] new Ministerial Orders being issued in 2016, one to each company." The reason being the recycling operation had changed hands over the years and the new operators were not responsible for the entire site. Simpson added that "the second company on the scene was not responsible for one particular part of the property," the containment cell.
Court records indicate that RDM began operating on the Old Sambro Road property in 1997. In November of 2005, RDM Recycling sold its assets to the second group of owners. The property was not included in the sale, it was "leased from RDM." It was during the sale that "RDM changed its name to 3012334 Nova Scotia Limited and [the second group] assumed the business name RDM Recycling."
Simpson informed us that RDM has since changed its name to become a numbered company and is now known as "3076525 Nova Scotia Limited."
The situation has persisted for a long time, and Simpson said that Brown and groups like the East Coast Environmental Association are "frustrated that we have these laws in place, they are not being enforced, and ultimately the problem [of the] contaminated site has not been cleaned up."
A September 2005 report showed "no appreciable decline in contaminants in Shea Lake and off-site monitoring."
The Harrietsfield situation is complicated and far from over. At any stage in the proceedings the province may step in and stay the prosecution indefinitely, they could take over the prosecution, or let us continue." Simpson said that the ultimate goal "is to see the issue addressed," and have the site cleaned up."