Chronicles

Bennett Environment 1

        There has been a great deal of controversy lately over the proposed installation of a toxic waste disposal unit in Belledune. This is welcome and encouraging, even if a bit late. Inhabitants of the area are aware of the hazards implicated in such a project and, increasingly, are asking important questions.

        People on the North Shore have been exposed to enough pollution over the years as it is: why should we be exposed to more? Especially, why should we be exposed to thousands of tons of the stuff which is to be imported to the area for disposal? These questions, in turn, raise two issues that need further examination. One of them has to do with the transportation of the material to be disposed. How can thousands of tons of toxic waste be moved here from central Canada and the north-eastern United States safely each year? What provisions can possibly be put into place to ensure that trains will not be derailed, that ships will not suffer spillage of one form or another, or that transport trucks will not be wrecked on our highways? We are talking about huge amounts of the stuff - one news story had the annual figure at 100 000 tons annually - that comes down to around 275 tons a day! That is a huge amount of waste oil, discarded hospital and medical supplies, old paint and the thousands of other forms of toxic waste that currently plague landfill and disposal sites in the large centres of the continent.

        The second issue of this question has to do with what is to be done with the by-product of the process, assuming that it does arrive safely for treatment. There will be ash, contaminated water, and concentrated residue of one form or another, regardless of the process and thoroughness of disposal. Sooner or later, something is going to have to be buried or stockpiled for yet further disposal. The people of Belledune and the surrounding area have only just begun to enjoy the sight of trees and brush growing around the smelter and the chemical plant after decades of looking at a site that was so badly contaminated that it looked like a moonscape.

        There is a second line of questioning that needs to be addressed as well. For as long as I can remember, the promise of jobs has been a major selling point for any proposed project in the region. It never seemed to matter to those proposing various projects, or to politicians or unions who were promoting them that these jobs might not be in the long term interest of local citizens; the jobs themselves were all that mattered. Now, many people are asking whether thirty-five jobs (which is, I believe, what the permanent staff of this facility will be) is worth the threat of another major assault on our bruised and further threatened environment. People are beginning to look further into the future and are asking themselves how the quality of life here will be enhanced in, say, ten years if we are trying to cope with yet another source of contaminant.

        I conclude with two questions of my own: If the proposed facility is so sophisticated and the controls so flawless as to preclude any threat of contamination, why does it have to be moved to Belledune, which is thousands of kilometres away from the sources of these toxic materials? And, again if it is without any threat, why did the province of Ontario, which, after all, is the source for much of the waste in the first place, refuse to have the facility established anywhere within its jurisdiction?

       

        This article appeared in the Campbellton Tribune, in Mike's "Grains of Sand" column. It is reproduced with Mike's permission.

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