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Test results indicate possible mercury dump site

An GIS image detailing the results of soil samples taken in an area west of Gordon Rd. suspected of being an unknown dump site. Images courtesy Earthroots

Group demands provincial investigation after uncovering evidence supporting whistleblower’s claims

By Chris Marchand

Canadian Environmental group Earthroots says it has evidence to support the claims of a former Dryden mill worker who said he helped bury over 50 barrels of a salt/mercury mixture in an unmarked pit near the mill site in 1972.

Earthroots Board Chair and former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Gord Miller held a press conference, Friday, in Toronto to present the evidence and demand the provincial government investigate the site in question.

Using aerial photographs from the late 1960s, former mill worker Kas Glowacki assisted Earthroots in identifying the general area, approximately 1 km west of the mill where he says the burial took place.

“Off the target area we get low background levels of mercury, which we’d expect from the bush in Northern Ontario and within the area he identified as the area of disposal 45 years ago we get high levels of mercury contamination in the soil — not just on the surface, but increasing with depth, which indicates there’s probably much more below,” said Miller.

In weekend excursions in October and November, volunteers with a rented hand-held metal detector searched the area identified by Glowacki. Test results found three soil samples to contain mercury levels over 2,000 parts per billion (ppb)— one of which tested at 3978.8 ppb. Average mercury values for mineral soil in the boreal forest, based on tests at the nearby Experimental Lakes Area are 32.7 ppb.

The area in question is just west of Gordon Rd and south of the CPR rail line.

Glowacki first came forward with his story in 2015 to the Chief of Grassy Narrows, a downstream community whose members who have been living with the effects of mercury poisoning since the late 1960s.

A portion of Glowacki’s original email read, “We filled 50+ drums of the salt and mercury mixture. There was a large pit dug behind the mill that was lined with black poly. The drums were dropped not placed into the pit, then covered with poly then buried. There was some weeping tile placed at one end, I assume, to monitor leakage.”

In November, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told Queens Park a Ministry of Environment investigation over the summer had not been able to find any evidence to support the existence of the disposal site.

“They (Ministry of Environment) didn’t speak to Mr. Glowacki and get him to draw a circle on a map like we did, “said Miller. “They did a geophysical survey last summer but in a completely different area and they didn’t find anything. With this information we would expect they would do a complete geophysical survey of this area Mr. Glowacki has identified. If our results are some sort of aberration, then prove it. We have enough first hand evidence that there’s something there. There has to be an investigation done to describe the extent of it.”

Earthroots’ David Sone says responsibility for any cleanup would most likely fall to the provincial government as a 1979 agreement, which aimed to facilitate the sale of the Dryden mill from Reed Paper to Great Lakes Paper, offered protection to both companies from the site’s potential future environmental liabilities. The agreement was re-iterated in 1985 upon the formation of a $17 million compensation package for affected First Nations downstream on the Wabigoon River.

The agreement has thus far held up for subsequent owners Weyerhaeuser and Resolute (Bowater) who have successfully argued against legal responsibility for the mill’s main mercury disposal site, created in 1971 to store the contaminated remnants of Reed’s Chlor-Alkali Plant. Domtar, the current owner of the Dryden mill operations, also has no legal responsibility to the site.

“This is a very unusual one because the government, when they wanted the mills re-opened back in the 80s indemnified the companies, plus some of it happened before there was an environmental protection act in Ontario,” said Miller. “However, that doesn’t replace the need for something to be done. The contamination is still there. We know it’s in the river, we know it’s in the fish. We have to find all of it that’s still residual on the property and get it cleaned up.”

Domtar spokesperson Bonny Skene says Domtar has been asked to preserve the integrity of the area under study and will offer access to the authorities for further investigation as well as opportunities for stakeholder oversight of whatever actions may be forthcoming.

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