For the past three years, I have served as a member of two public
advisory committees. I do not know how such committees function in other
parts of the province or country, but, in these two instances, I do know
that we are encouraged to raise concerns and to expect that these concerns
will receive considerate, thorough, and appropriate responses. Both
Bowater and Pioneer employees have responded to requests for information,
including detailed scientific data, whenever they have been forthcoming.
Both companies have set up field trips and information sessions with no
hedging, hesitation, or withholding of the information that has been
requested. In both situations, I really believe that committee members
have become educated with regard to the issues that confront the
Two weeks ago, The Tribune ran a story about mercury contamination in
and around Dalhousie. Pioneer Chemical management was upset with the story
because its source was a leaked report that, management felt, should have
been released to the company first, and from there to its advisory
committee before reaching the press for public consumption. Plant manager,
Dan Currie, stressed that he felt that the Tribune story was very well
done, and that the writer had shown integrity in his presentation of that
material. However, he was unhappy with the original report itself because
it failed to make a fundamental and critical distinction among the
different sorts of heavy metal contamination that are currently of concern
in the upper reaches of the Bay of Chaleur and the lower Restigouche
Estuary. In essence, he felt that the public should be aware of the fact
that although Pioneer Chemical has inherited the mercury problem of its
predecessors on site - there is mercury in the sediment around the plant
itself - the company is not responsible for other forms of heavy metal
contamination that are showing up in other places in the region.
The Advisory Committee met to discuss the story and our response to it.
He and Chris Irving, who is the Chemical Engineer in charge of
environmental concerns for the plant, informed us that the issue at hand
had to do with an imperfect distinction between mercury, on the one hand,
and heavy metals - which include cadmium, lead, and arsenic, as well as
mercury, on the other. While the company continues to be responsible for
mercury around its own site, other agents are responsible for the
contaminants that are showing up in Charlo and elsewhere. Our mandate, as
a public advisory committee, is to try to bring this to public awareness.
We feel that it is important that everyone realize that a problem exists,
but that the solution to that problem does not lie in a facile blaming of
an identifiable target; instead, it is essential that the source, or
sources, of contamination be identified and corrected.
Our role is twofold here: on the one hand, I think that we have a
responsibility to inform the public that some of the information in the
Tribune story needs to be modified and clarified; on the other, I think
that we have a responsibility to demand of our government that efforts be
made to trace the sources of the other contaminants of concern in our area
and to implement solutions. This role is in accordance with our mandate,
and it is one that I am willing to promote. Public advisory committees can
function meaningfully - and this just might be a good example of that.
This article appeared in the Campbellton Tribune, in Mike's "Grains of Sand" column.
It is reproduced with Mike's permission.