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Hamilton Member of Parliament calls for RCMP investigation of illegal soil dumping

A Canadian Member of Parliament, David Sweet, wants the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to investigate alleged illegal soil dumping in Flamborough, near the City of Hamilton.

According to Mr. Sweet, a Conservative MP representing the federal riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook, the matter of illegal dumping requires the immediate attention of the federal government and the RCMP.

David Sweet, MP

In a open letter to federal Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, and the federal Minister of Organized Crime Reduction, Bill Blair, the Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP claims that there is illegal dumping of soil at a garden supply store in his riding because of “alleged links to organized crime and related illegal activities.”

“This matter requires the immediate attention of the government and the RCMP,” he said in a letter to Bill Blair, federal minister of organized crime reduction, and Ralph Goodale, public safety minister. 

The garden supply store has faced numerous environmental fines over the years. This includes in 2008, when it was fined $50,000 after it pleaded guilty to violations under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act. The company was violating several conditions, including not monitoring its wells. 

Recent scrutiny, however, has focused on the dumping of excess soil there. Neighbours say trucks arrive day and night and dump dirt there. Hamilton authorities say there’s an ongoing issue across the city with trucks dumping untested soil from GTHA developments on rural properties. 

Proposed Ontario Rules on Excess Soil

Ontario is proposing changes to the excess soil management and brownfields redevelopment regime.

The changes are designed to “make it safer and easier for more excess soil to be reused locally…while continuing to ensure strong environmental protection” and to “clarify rules and remove unnecessary barriers to redevelopment and revitalization of historically contaminated lands…while protecting human health and the environment.

The changes will include the development of a new excess soil regulation supported by amendments to existing regulations including O. Reg. 347 and O. Reg. 153/04 made under the Environmental Protection Act supports key changes to excess soil management.

Proposed changes include:

  • clarifying that excess soil is not a waste if appropriately and directly reused;
  • development of flexible, risk-based reuse excess soil standards and soil characterization rules to provide greater clarity of environmental protection;
  • removal of waste-related approvals for low risk soil management activities;
  • improving safe and appropriate reuse of excess soil by requiring testing, tracking and registration of soil movements for larger and riskier generating and receiving sites;
  • flexibility for soil reuse through a Beneficial Reuse Assessment Tool to develop site specific standards;
  • landfill restrictions on deposit of clean soil (unless needed for cover).

From an environmental perspective, the proposal’s call for some regulatory key points are quite beneficial. Registering and tracking the excess soil movement from excavation source to receiving site or facility will minimize illegal dumping. Transporting and illegal dumping of the excess soils is a source of concern because excavated soil is a source of trapped Greenhouse Gases (GHG). 

The proposal is posted for comment on the Environment Registry until May 31, 2019. To read the full proposal, click here.

Quebec’s Action on Illegal Soil Dumping

The Quebec Government recently announcement that it will adopt the regulation that will include the implementation of a system in which the movement of contaminated soil will be tracked in real time. Under the tracking system, the site owner, project manager, regulator, carrier, and receiving site, and other stakeholders will be able to know where contaminated soil is being shipped from, where it’s going, its quantity and what routes will be used to transport it.

Contaminated soil will be tracked in real time, starting from its excavation, through a global positioning system. The system, Traces Québec, is already in place in Montreal as part of a pilot project.

The Quebec government also intends to increase he number of inspections on receiving sites. Furthermore, fines will be increased for those taking part in illegal dumping — from $350 to $3 million depending on the gravity of the offence, the type of soil and if they are repeat offenders, among other criteria.

Investigation finds Contaminated Soil from Montreal is being dumped on Prime Farmland

As reported by Marie-Maude Denis and Jacques Taschereau of CBC News, contaminated soil generated from the development of properties in Montreal is ending up on prime agriculture land.

Radio-Canada’s investigative program Enquête recently tracked demolition waste from Montreal sites to farmland in Saint-Rémi. When the investigators confronted the farmer, he claimed the material dumped on his property would be used as a foundation for a greenhouse and that it was legal.

An environmental lawyer contacted by the Radio Canada investigators disagreed with the farmer as did Quebec’s Environment Ministry. The Environment Ministry confirmed it found contaminated soil at the site last year, but it’s offered no further details about its origin, saying the matter is still under investigation.

When The Radio Canada investigators questioned the general contractor working on the site that was the source of the contaminated soil, he claimed the a subcontractor properly trucked the soil away.

Properly managed soil treatment facility

The claim of the general contractor and farmer is that the material is construction debris consisting mainly of bricks and stones and not contaminated soil. The investigators noted that the material they saw dumped on the farm included metal and concrete. According to the Environment Ministry, the kind of debris that was tracked by the investigators can’t be legally be use for the intended farmland construction.

In a similar investigation conducted by Radio Canada in 2016, investigative reporters followed trucks and observed debris being dumped in the countryside. The investigators arranged for the sampling and analysis of the soil from several farms and that found some samples to be contaminated.

Using GPS trackers to fight toxic soil dumping

As reported by the CBC News and the Montreal Gazette, the Province of Quebec and the City of Montreal are joining forces to try to crack down on a possible link between organized crime and the dumping of contaminated soil on agricultural land.

The solution? A GPS system that can track where toxic soil is — and isn’t — being dumped.

According to the province, there are about two million metric tonnes of contaminated soil to be disposed of every year.

Toxic soil is supposed to be dumped on designated sites at treatment centres. But the Sûreté du Québec has confirmed it believes members of organized crime have been dumping soil from contaminated excavation sites onto farmland.

Quebec Provincial police confirm they are investigating a possible link between organized crime and the dumping of contaminated soil.

“It’s a constant battle. The city and all municipalities have to be very vigilant about any types of possible corruption,” said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

“What we are talking about today supports a solution, but again, we always have to be proactive.”

The new pilot project, called Traces Québec, is set to launch in May. Companies would have to register for the web platform, which can track in real time where soil is being transported — from the time it leaves a contaminated site to the time it’s disposed of.

Some environmentalists say they’re concerned about the impact the toxic soil has had on agricultural land where it’s been dumped. They’re also uncertain about how a computerized tracking system will put an end to corruption and collusion.

“Right now, there’s no environmental police force in Quebec so there have been investigations into these toxic soils being dumped but unfortunately nobody’s been held accountable yet,” said Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Quebec Green Party.

“There’s really a lack of a coherent strategy for how Quebec is going to decontaminate all of these different toxic sites all over the province. There’s no announcement of any new money.”

The city and the province say this is a first step at addressing the issue and more announcements will be on the way in the coming months.

The pilot project — a joint effort with the city of Montreal — will test a system, known as Traces Québec, that uses GPS and other technologies to track contaminated soil. The first test case will involve a city plan to turn a former municipal yard in Outremont into a 1.7-hectare park. Work is to start in the fall.  All bidders on the project will have to agree to use the Traces Québec system.

Using the system, an official cargo document is created that includes the soil’s origin and destination and its level of contamination. Trucks are equipped with GPS chips that allow officials to trace the route from pickup to drop-off.

Mayor Valérie Plante said the pilot project is “a concrete response to a concrete problem.”

She said she wants to protect construction workers and residents by ensuring contaminated soil is disposed of properly. The city also wants to make sure the money it spends on decontamination is going to companies that disposed of soil safely and legally.

“Municipalities have to be very vigilant about any types of possible corruption,” she said. “We know there are cracks in the system and some people have decided to use them and it’s not acceptable.”

Plante said Montreal will study the results of the pilot project before deciding whether to make the system mandatory on all city projects.

The Traces Québec system was developed by Réseau Environnement, a non-profit group that represents 2,700 environmental experts.

Pierre Lacroix, president of the group, said today some scofflaws dispose of contaminated soil illegally at a very low cost by producing false documents and colluding with other companies to circumvent laws.

He said the Traces Québec system was tested on a few construction sites to ensure it is robust and can’t be circumvented. “We will have the truck’s licence plate number, there will be GPS tracking, trucks will be weighed,” Lacroix said.

“If the truck, for example, doesn’t take the agreed-upon route, the software will send an alert and we’ll be able to say, ‘Why did you drive that extra kilometre and why did it take you an extra 15 minutes to reach your destination?’”

Organized crime can be creative in finding new ways to avoid detection and Lacroix admitted “no system is perfect.”

But he noted that “at the moment, it’s anything goes, there are no controls. Technology today can help take big, big, big steps” toward thwarting criminals.

With files from CBC reporter Sudha Krishnan

How the GPS tracking system will work