Ministry orders action at mercury waste disposal site

It’s an environmental hot potato with familiar overtones to Dryden.
Ontario’s Ministry of Environment (MOE) has issued an order for action to be taken to ensure no further escape of contaminants from the Bowater Mercury Disposal Site, part of the Dryden mill complex. But, finding someone to claim responsibility in the matter may prove be the hardest part of all.
The MOE says monitoring data from around the site suggests that a ‘contaminant plume’ is advancing east-southeast of the site towards a marshy area and the mill’s sewage treatment lagoon. While results do not indicate impacts to surface or groundwater at this time, the MOE says a potential for that to occur does exist. A 2010 inspection of the site also revealed erosion along the eastern edge of the site and sagging security fences.
“The ministry needs the company to get on site to inspect it and do some work involving sampling and monitoring to ensure that the site continues to be managed environmentally and that there is no increased risk of offsite contamination,” said Ministry of Environment’s Issues Project Coordinator Lisa Brygidyr.
Brygidyr adds that the Ministry does not consider there to be a threat to public safety at this time.
The order appeared on the Ontario Environmental Registry website, July 12, naming numbered company 4513541 Canada Inc., Abitibi-Bowater Inc. Abi-Bow Canada Inc., Bowater Canadian Forest Products and Weyerhaeuser Company Ltd.
Created in 1971 to store mercury-contaminated waste from the demolition of the Reed Ltd. chlorakali plant, the site consists of eight concrete cells containing contaminated rubble, stabilized mercury sludge and mercury contaminated equipment.
The plant produced sodium hydroxide and chlorine for the bleaching of paper.
Bowater came to be owners of the site via the 1998 purchase of Great Lakes Paper, who in turn purchased Reed Paper in 1979.
Corporate restructuring within Abitibi-Bowater in April 2010 saw the Dryden waste disposal property and two other Abitibi sites transferred to a numbered company called 4513541 Canada Inc. — a corporate entity that now is in receivership.
That’s where Brygidyr says it gets complicated.
“They’ve emerged from their restructuring process as Abi-Bow, a new company. So they’re saying, ‘we’re not responsible for the site,” said Brygidyr. “The Ministry has the right to go after current and historic owners of sites if they are deemed to have had environmental management of the site during a period where contamination took place.”
And that’s exactly what the Ontario government intends to do, says Brygidyr.
“It is a little bit precedent setting in that it shows that companies can’t use bankruptcy as a way to walk away from their environmental liabilities,” said Brygidyr. “It gives the ministry a way to uphold the ‘polluter pay’ principle.”
Abitibi Bowater Public Affairs Canada Director Pierre Choquette says the company is reserving its comments until the end of a 30-day public review and comment period. In the meantime, Choquette says his company will continue to work with the Ministry of Environment on the matter.
Domtar spokesperson  Stuart Lister says the waste disposal site’s Certificate of Approval was not a part ofthe 2007 transaction that saw the mill site change hands from Weyerhaeuser to Domtar.
“We have seen the MOE Draft Director’s Order and believe it adequately protects the company’s (Domtar) interests as adjacent landowners,” said Lister.
Interested members of the public can find out more and submit comments at Ontario’s Environmental Registry website: ‘www.ebr.gov.on.ca’ — keyword ‘Dryden’.

By Chris Marchand

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