By Krystyn Tully, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper
In March, Clean Air Bath, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Loyalist Environmental Coalition, and The Tragically Hip rock band won the opportunity to appeal the Ministry of the Environment’s approvals for the Lafarge Alternative Fuels Project.
A few years ago, Lafarge began exploring the possibility of burning tires, plastics, bone meal and other waste materials in its cement kiln in Bath, Ontario. From the very beginning, environmentalists and residents raised concerns about the impacts the “alternative fuels” project might have on local air and water quality. Tire-burning, in particular, attracted people’s attention because it has led to increases in emissions of dioxins, PAHs, and metals in other communities. Non-governmental organizations, private citizens, local governments, and others documented their concerns in a number of submissions to the Ministry of the Environment.
One year ago, Lafarge asked the Ministry of the Environment for certificates of approval for air emissions and waste disposal so that it could launch the project.Waterkeeper and dozens of others used the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) process to inform the Ministry of possible environmental impacts, ask questions about the process, and make recommendations to ensure clean air and water and fair decision-making.
In early summer 2006, our worries about pollution in the Bath Creek and Lake Ontario grew. Lafarge asked for a revised waste disposal permit last summer – this time for its 30 year-old cement kiln dust landfill. Lafarge dumps an average of 28,521 tonnes of cement kiln dust into its landfill each year, roughly the equivalent of the domestic waste created by 94,000 people. CKD is the dust captured from the cement kiln’s exhaust gas by the air pollution control system. It is a corrosive, toxic substance.
Leachate from the landfill is released untreated into the Bath Creek, which runs from the landfill through the town of Bath and into Lake Ontario. Lafarge is allowed to continuously discharge into the creek as long as monthly monitoring does not indicate greater than 50% mortality to fish. In 2001, Lafarge reported two of these mortality tests where all organisms died at 100% concentration. Runoff from the landfill includes contaminants such as Silver, Aluminium, Cadmium, Iron, Nickel, Strontium, Zinc, Phosphate, and Phenols.
After carefully documenting our concerns about air pollution,water pollution, and the potential cumulative effects of so many so-called “alternative fuels,” we were very surprised when the Ministry of the Environment approved the Lafarge Alternative Fuels project on the eve of the winter holiday last December. Every group and every citizen who had commented during the EBR process scurried to find legal representation to ask the Environmental Review Tribunal for permission to appeal the approvals within our allotted 15 days.
To win an opportunity to appeal the approvals, each party had to show that no reasonable person could have made the same decision as the Ministry of the Environment, and that the Ministry’s decision could result in significant harm to the environment. In its April 5, 2007 decision, the Tribunal declared that our groups had met this test.
The Tribunal’s decision opens the door for Clean Air Bath, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and Gord Downie, Loyalist Environmental Coalition, and The Tragically Hip. The groups will be represented by Rick Lindgren of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Rob Wright of Sierra Legal Defence Fund, and noted environmental lawyer Joseph Castrilli.
With two years of research and comment under our belts and with the appeal to the Environmental Review Tribunal just beginning, this is a long process. It’s also a milestone for Waterkeeper, the other participants, and everyone who has commented on any environmental permit in Ontario in recent years. As members of the community, we have a lot to contribute to the decision-making process. The Tribunal’s decision is vindicating. We are finally being heard.
In a related effort, the Gaia Defense League is initiating a public awareness campaign opposing the construction of a waste tire to energy facility in Erie, PA. For more information and to get involved, contact Marty Visnosky or Cathy Pedler of the Gaia Defense League (814) 454-7523 firstname.lastname@example.org.