Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Legacy of industrial expansion in a village

Years ago resin waste dripped out of drums onto Winnett Street, then onto Highway 3 and finally on Brooks Road.

Those toxic droplets are long gone but what they illustrate are an indelible link between the rusted St. Lawrence Resin Products plant in Cayuga and Edwards Landfill. From the day the plant opened, residents complained about obnoxious odours and then headaches, nauseau and breathing problems. A group of citizens stood up to ask authorities to stop it to protect their health.

Today, both the plant site and the dump near Cayuga are known toxic sites. Buried on a 30-acre property located in a wetland undermined by gypsum shafts are drums of resin waste. Their leaked legacy has contaminated soil and well and surface water. Since 2004, a resident group, Haldimand Against Landfill Transfers (HALT), has lobbied against reactivation of a dump deemed in 1991 as the most hazardous abandoned dump in Ontario.

"It's buried out there in Edwards Landfill for God's sake," declared Anne Louise Vick who lives a few blocks away from the plant. There are 15 cancer causing chemicals sitting in that dump on Brooks Road and there's been lots of cancer in the neighbourhood, she added during a recent interview with The Chronicle.

Anne Lousie described the plant site as dangerous and an accident waiting to happen. Aware that clean up might be suggested, she had grave concerns. "If they started moving earth around there, God knows what they would find," she said.

Her spouse, Bob Vick, who is a retired chemistry teacher, pointed out that the silos are filled with resin waste and are corroding. One day their contents will escape, he added.

When the plant was running, fallout created an oily, hard coating on windows and outdoor furniture. Red particles floated in bird baths. Residents called out to local governments and the environment ministry for help. They were told to document when odour occurred and to describe it and how it affected their health.

It did not take long for Anne Louise and her neighbour Lorna Walker to lose faith in the young Ontario Minsitry of the Environment. Over the past few years, members of HALT lost confidence in the ministry due to its willingness to allow waste in Edwards Landfill even though the operator was not complying with key and required safeguards including a proper collection system for water flowing over new and over historic toxic waste sections.

According to dump owner Don Courtney, 35,000 tonnes of contaminated material lies on the surface and in shallow trenches. He and other shareholders own Haldimand Norfolk Sanitary Landfill Inc. (HNSLI) which is the corporate name for the dump west of Cayuga. In 2007, S. F. Partners Inc. senior vice-president Brahm Rosen was named receiver of the company.

"No one knows exactly what is in there," Courtney told The Chronicle in 2007.

A few weeks later, landfill shareholder Struan Robertson told The Chronicle that an agreement to decomission historic waste was one of the benefits the company traded to get the licence from the environment ministry.

When Courtney and the late Frank Campbell purchased HNSLI, a valid certificate of approval came with it and remains in place. Both the dump and the plant pose a hazard to health.

Anne Louise and Walker know first hand. Air emissions forced them to slam windows shut on humid nights. Their children became sick. They and other Cayuga residents started to fight for the safer environment they enjoyed before the plant opened. Their group was called the North Cayuga Ratepayers Association and their battle spanned about a decade.

Acting as the group's spokesperson, Walker wrote letters to the environment minsitry, the former Haldimand council, the Haldimand Norfolk Regional council and to local members of the legislature and parliament. She has the files to prove it.

In one page carefully slid into the Presentations File, is a brief note written by her when fatigued.

"Thurs. Scottie is terribly sick all nite. Resin all nite thru the house," her fine pencil strokes read. She added that Dr. David Marshall, who stated emissions leukemia, was the first to take a stand for people in Cayuga.

As far as Walker can remember it was 1975. Around that time, Scott needed hospitalization and his brother was a baby. She recalled scooping the baby out of the carriage when a daytime plume came to their backyard. As an adult, he majored in chemistry in his post secondary education and has told her they should have moved away from the plant.

"I just remember my frustration and my fear that my kids -I'm subjecting them to this," said Walker. "You had to ask how safe is this right in the next block...The maddening part of it though was they were making big, big money over there."

When it was humid, people couldn't breathe, she Under certain conditions it was devastating," stated Walker.

While the resin plant was running, Macy Vick grew sick with pleurisy and only recovered when taken out of town. Benzene, a polyaromatic hydrocarbon, could have played a factor in her condition.

Benzene can cause respiratory irritation and can be absorbed in the body at a rate as high as 80 per cent. Women are most susceptible and if they are pregnant, benzene moves into babies. One of the potentially fatal side effects of inhaling the substance is pulmonary edema, a condition where fluid builds up in lungs and can cause death if not treated immediately.

Anne Louise's son, David, suffered from asthma and she had severe headaches. The highly flammable benzene can also cause diabetes, urinary tract disorders, skin rash, and kidney disease. They were also exposed to naphthalene putting them at risk of liver and neurological damage and possibly cancer. In 1976, the ministry said dispersed chemicals including ethyl stryene and toluene did not pose a risk to health.

Benzopyrene and naphthalene were found in soil and water tests done a few years ago in Edwards Landfill by a firm working for the dump owners. Those two hazardous chemicals were not permited in the 1971 operating licence.

Used to make rubber, lubricants and adhesives, toluene was also found in emission tests done by the ministry in 1976. This chemical can impair the nervous system and cause nausea and headaches. In high levels, it can kill.

Similar chemicals turned up in Love Canal when heavy rains released them from an abandoned canal along the Niagara River in New York. Benzene, chlorobenzene and chlorotoluene were drawn to the surface.

Dug into clay in 1894, the canal was abandoned and 50 years later became an industrial and municipal dump filled with unknown chemicals. After the rain in the 1970s, over 240 homes were evacuated.

Around the same time, many Cayuga residents were exposed to other airborne chemicals including xylene, ehtylbenzene, ethyltoluene, methyl styrene, cymene and divinyl benzene.

This chemical stew came to the village after council approval. The resin plant was expected to be the first enterprise in a new industrial area right beside the town's north edge.

It all started in Canada's Centennial year, 1967. On Sept. 7, Elgin Houison of Cayuga sold the 16- acre 82 Fishcarrier Street property to St. Lawrence Resin Products Limited for $1.00. Fifteen days later, Houison gave the company a $5,000 mortgage.

On Nov. 23, 1967, the Cayuga town council granted permission for a resin plant building permit during an emergency meeting. A typed presentation to a local council noted that the plant was rejected in Caledonia and Dunnville.

"(Cayuga councillors) were dying to get industry in the area so they jumped on it," said John Walker.

On Jan. 4, 1968, Cayuga council passed a restricted area bylaw that outlawed uses described as "noxious trade". The ratepayers association said the resin plant did not conform to the bylaw.

Also in January 1968, the Dunnville Chronicle reported provincial loans of up to $250,000 to attract industry to smaller centres including Dunnville, Cayuga and Caledonia. Loans were forgiven after six years if industries were a benefit to the community.

The resin plant was operating by 1969 charged for air pollution by the provincial air management branch. In 1971, the case was dismissed in the Cayuga courthouse. After proceedings, plant president John Currie, Anne Louise Vick, an OPP officer and an engineer with the air management branch and reporters from the St. Catharines Standard and the Welland Tribune walked out of the courthouse and into an obnoxious breeze. Immediately another charge of air pollution was laid but the company was only fined $100.

In 1972, the provincial environment ministry was founded and maintaining air, water and land quality were among its responsibilities.

Over the next three years, more houses were built in the neighbourhood where odour was growing stronger. Walker said the company deliberately released fallout in the night.

In 1975, 90 Cayuga residents signed a petition asking the ministry to eliminate the offensive odour. Air samples were taken but not released for a year.

In 1976, Dr. David Marshall, now a Superior Court judge, described fumes as a leukemia and lung cancer threat. Benzene exposure can cause a fatal reaction, he told the Town of Haldimand council.

Due to findings of several chemicals, the ministry ordered the resin plant owner to control emissions, control odour from the flaker building, keep containers of solvents closed, pour a cement pad to prevent spills that might reach Pike Creek and order spare parts for maintenance.

Regardless of those safeguards, disaster happened in July 1981. "They had a bad mess over there and chemicals spilled into Pike Creek," recalled Anne Louise. "That killed all the fish, foliage, muskrats -everything."

According to a Hamilton Spectator story, almost 450 litres of solvent killed wildlife and flowed into a ditch and pond downstream. The plant manager linked the spill to a corroded pipe that failed six months before replacement was scheduled. Clean up included soil removal and straw to soak up the solvent slick.

In 1989, the St. Lawrence Resin Products Plant was bankrupt. In 1989, Donald Early, president of 815244 Ontario Inc. paid $615,000 for the site and the mortgage was held by 815244 Ontario Inc. The company was sold in the late 1990s.

In 1996, the former Town of Haldimand placed a tax arrears certifcate for $72,000 on the property and the environment ministry ordered the owner to clean it up. It didn't happen and neither did a clean up ordered in 2005. That year, the ministry removed highly caustic boron triflouride that can eat through skin and destroy lungs. The buildings were boarded up by the municipality.

That year, hydrogeologist Wilf Ruland said contaminants in groundwater and leachate at Edwards Landfill exceeded provincial drinking water standards. For instance, 392,000 micograms per liter of naphthalene was found in dump water and the water quality objective is seven.

Last year, resin plant buildings were found open again so the county nailed them shut and the ministry ordered the owner to clean it up. It did not happen and failure to do so is under investigation by the ministry.

Haldimand County senior managers are working on a report outlining options for county response to the resin plant site. Options can include containment or selling it off for brownfield development.

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