Hands Across the Border Seek to Stop Dioxin Pollution Dombind

Hands Across the Border Seek to Stop Dioxin Pollution Dombind

by Linda Pim, Federation of Ontario Naturalists

What is wrong with this picture? The pulp and paper giant Norampac Inc. is the largest containerboard producer in Canada and the ninth largest in North America. The company reported net earnings of $29 million for the third quarter of 2000, twice the level of a year before. With a profit picture like that, why does Norampac, amidst a groundswell of negative media coverage, continue to delay the installation of a waste treatment system at its Trenton, Ontario mill to stop dioxin-containing Dombind from contaminating habitats not only in Ontario but possibly also in the U.S.?

Since 1993, aquatic habitat activists in Ontario have raised concerns about the spreading of Dombind on Ontario’s rural roads as a dust suppressant. In the early 1990s, tougher provincial effluent regulations stemming from requirements of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement meant that Norampac (called Domtar Packaging at the time) could no longer discharge its liquid wastes into the Trent River just upstream from the Bay of Quinte in Lake Ontario. The company then began to concentrate the effluent in evaporators, persuaded the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to classify it as a product instead of a waste, and offered it free to municipalities as a road dust-buster. It has a very high biological oxygen demand (BOD), making it especially harmful in aquatic habitats. It also contains significant traces of dioxins, furans, phenols and heavy metals.

Under a five-year agreement signed in 1993 between the MOE and the company, Dombind was allowed to contain up to 500 parts per quadrillion (ppq) TCDD (total dioxins), although that limit was sometimes exceeded, always without penalty. Norampac was supposed to use that five-year period to explore waste treatment alternatives and to approach zero dioxins in Dombind. Instead, Norampac apparently did nothing in that time around waste treatment options — and dioxin levels in Dombind actually increased.

At the end of 1998, amid mounting public outrage about sloppy Dombind application by municipalities (too close to waterways and water wells, sticking to pets and clothing, possibly affecting livestock, etc.), the Ontario Minister of the Environment promised that Dombind would be off the roads by the end of 2000. In the two years since then, citizens’ groups have had to fight at every turn to make this happen. A coalition formed that includes the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Quinte Watershed Cleanup, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations and several eastern Ontario residents, all with legal representation from the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.

At press time and to the horror of the anti-Dombind coalition, the MOE has proposed that Norampac be permitted to give away Dombind for road use until October 2002. The ministry was responding to the company’s plans to take until February 2004 to have its “steam reformer” waste treatment technology in place. Citizens flooded the MOE with letters and emails demanding that not one more day of Dombind spreading be allowed.

How could it be, citizens wondered, that a government could propose two more years of deliberate, sanctioned release of dioxins, which are among the United Nations Environment Program’s “dirty dozen” persistent organic pollutants (POPs), the production and use of which are targeted for complete elimination?

The astonishing fact is that Dombind use on Ontario roads is not even “needed” for waste disposal as we wait for the Trenton mill to get its treatment technology in place. Why? Because most Dombind produced at Trenton is not going on Ontario roads. Public pressure over the past four years has meant that few Ontario municipalities are still using Dombind; most use calcium chloride as a dust-buster instead. We have calculated that for the year 2000, 95 percent of the Dombind produced by the Trenton mill was not spread on Ontario roads. The big question is where is it going? We have been told that, dressed up as a product instead of a waste, Dombind has been crossing the international border to the United States for some time.

With the financial assistance of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Fund, the New York League of Conservation Voters will be heading up a project to find out what’s happening to Dombind in the U.S. The goal is to find out where it’s going and what it’s being used for, and to mobilize citizens in affected areas to oppose Dombind. NYLCV, Great Lakes United, New York Public Interest Research Group, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, Quinte Watershed Cleanup and other groups will join hands across the international border and create a partnership to expose Dombind’s fate in the U.S., and work to put a quick end to its import from Ontario.

For information on the Ontario campaign, please contact Linda Pim at the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, (416) 444-8419 ext. 243 or lindap@ontarionature.org.

For information on the United States campaign, please contact Dana Bobinchek at the New York League of Conservation Voters, (716) 856-0457 or dbobinchek@nylcv.org.

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.