It is incredible that the governments which claim to represent us can't pull together the will and resources to clean up these toxic sites.
By Matt Jelly
Published April 18, 2011
this article has been updated
The first property contained hundreds of barrels of abandoned electroplating materials, left in a series of crumbling buildings. The second site contained hundreds more barrels left over from a tar operation, as well as a million-dollar marijuana grow-op in the adjacent building.
As a result of the articles I wrote on these properties, multiple orders from the Ministry of the Environment were issued to the properties in hopes that their respective owners would clean them up. Security was initially posted to both sites by the City of Hamilton Public Health Department. Both of these sites were easily accessible when I found them, with no fences or "no trespassing" signs. Just about anyone could walk onto these sites unhindered.
Eight months later, at 249 Hess Street North, the buildings have all been knocked down save for one, which now contains all the material that was found on the site. The debris from the demolished buildings sits in tarped dumpsters on the property.
In March I visited this site, and found part of the fence on the Hess Street Side of the property had been removed, and security was no longer posted to the site, at the order of the Public Health Department.
The materials remain, and the owner, Dave Maden/Baldev Madan refuses to clean the site up. He has ignored the orders issued to him by the Ministry of the Environment, and threatened to sue the Ministry and the City of Hamilton for "bad faith harassment tactics" and "abuse of authority".
The Ministry's investigation continues, and it could take up to two years to complete.
Material that used to be housed on a site at 245 Catherine Street North has likely been moved to the Hess Street property by the owner of both sites. Both the Hess Street and Catherine Street sites used to be owned by the City of Hamilton, and were transferred to the current owner.
The City and the MOE knew about the waste on the Catherine Street site as far back as 1999. When the City owned the Catherine Street site, a cleanup was costed, but not completed. Instead, the City sold these sites to their current owner, who continues to evade responsibility for the materials on-site.
Eight months later, at 350 Wentworth Street North, some materials seem to have been moved around, but nothing has been secured. An orange plastic fence along the northern edge of the property is crushed into the ground and entangled in debris.
The property remains fully accessible from two directions - one being the adjacent City of Hamilton Operations Centre at 330 Wentworth Street North.
Property still accessible from two directions
What I didn't see last summer when I visted the property was the giant chemical pit behind the building. That little kiosk you see in the background is the parking structure for the City of Hamilton Operations Centre.
Giant chemical pit behind the building
One time, when I was organizing a Garbage Crawl event, this is where I went to pick up the bags and gloves for litter collection. This facility is home to the City Of Hamilton's Water and Wastewater division, as well as Customer Service and Facility Management.
Ironically enough, in 2003 the City of Hamilton passed By-Law No. 03-125 [PDF link], the The Swimming Pool Enclosure By-Law, which requires owners of swimming pools to enclose their pool with a fence.
The Public Health Department has some sound advice for parents who own swimming pools, that pools should be surrounded on all sides by fences, and have a self-locking gate which cannot be opened by a child. At the same time, on Wentworth Street North, there's a giant chemical pit in the ground with no fence in sight. Maybe the Public Health Department should follow their own helpful tips on this one.
Barrels of toxic waste
When I found these sites, as confusing as it was to me that they could exist in this condition for so long without anyone taking notice, I thought for sure that the City of Hamilton, the Ministry of the Environment and the institutions we trust to ensure our well being as citizens would leap to action and make it right somehow.
Instead, the City of Hamilton seems to have forgotten about the dangers present at this site, and the Ministry of the Environment continues to investigate. Unfortunately in the meantime, residents of this neighbourhood still have to live near this hazardous mess, without any assurances of when or whether the mess will be cleaned up.
In Ontario, we invest less than a third of each penny of our tax dollars in the Ministry of the Environment. Ministry officials can put an order against a property to have it cleaned up, but if the owner doesn't comply with that order, they're charged under the Environmental Protection Act, which does not involve a criminal charge, but rather a fine.
The fine pays for administrative and legal costs, not remediation of the property in question. If the cost of the cleanup is more than the fine, the owners will simply not engage in a cleanup.
In the case of 350 Wentworth Street North, past owners of the property named in the order have appealed their order from the MOE, on grounds that they did not create the mess, that it was left by past owners of the property. The current owner, Harry Tamber, claims that the past owners left the mess on the property and had promised to clean it up.
The order from the MOE named both the current and past owners of the property, requiring them to work together to clean the property up. They have all failed to comply with this order. While they try to lay the blame on one another, the toxic waste remains.
One block away from this site to the north is the Eva Rothwell Centre, formerly Robert Land School. Across the road from the Eva Rothwell Centre is North Central Park, its playground and basketball court located directly beside Wentworth Metal Recycling's giant piles of heavy metals.
Hamiltonians often think about the industrial sector of this city and imagine it as blocks and blocks of purely industrial properties, out of sight and out of mind. The reality is that these are neighbourhoods, with homes, schools and parks, in between industrial giants.
When we think about the social problems that exist in Hamilton, the health problems described in the Hamilton Spectator's Code Red series, is it hard to see that some people grow up at an unnatural disadvantage, based on where they live and the unadvertised contamination in their midst, in the air, land and water?
Waste Oil 100 feet from the City of Hamilton Operations Centre
I find it incredible that eight months later, this site is in nearly the same condition as when I found it. I find it incredible that security has been removed from this site, and there's still no fence to prevent people from entering this site.
I find it incredible that the governments which claim to represent us can't pull together the will and resources to clean up these toxic sites, but obsessed for over a year on a project to build a Stadium, which upon taking office was our Mayor's top priority.
We need leadership. We don't need the same old answers - these owners will resist engaging in a cleanup at all costs. As Hamiltonians and Ontarians, we deserve far better.
Secure fences need to be surrounding this site on all sides. Before we see another Plastimet disaster, the City of Hamilton needs to be serious about preventing access to this site. We have a responsibility as a community to do something about this site before it's too late.
Please contact your representatives, and tell them these toxic sites still need to be cleaned up, one way or another. If our municipal and provincial governments can afford to build a Stadium and a flooding Parkway, they can certainly afford to do whatever it takes to make sure this mess is cleaned up immediately.
Minister of the Environment:
Ministry of the Environment - Hamilton Regional Office
Premier Dalton McGuinty: firstname.lastname@example.org
MPP Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP: email@example.com
MPP Tim Hudak, leader of the Progressive Conservatives: firstname.lastname@example.org
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This article was first published on Matt Jelly's website.
Update: Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli forwarded a response he received from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment to Matt Jelly, who posted it on his blog:
Let me assure you that the ministry is committed to ensuring that owners of contaminated sites in Ontario follow all applicable regulations and guidelines to clean them up. In a joint effort, the MOE has been coordinating with the City of Hamilton on the management of these sites.
On October 15, 2010, officers from the Ministry of the Environment served a Section 18 Control Order to the owner and previous owners of 350 Wentworth Street North, Hamilton. The order requires all parties to clean up the waste materials on site as well as evaluate all possible environmental impacts from the site.
The owners and previous owners of this site submitted a plan on March 9, 2011, to my office for clean-up at the site that would have all surface containers and materials removed from the site for proper disposal. The plan was accepted and I am pleased to report that clean-up of the site is anticipated to be complete within the next month. On the issue of the giant chemical pit reported in Mr Jelly's blog it is in fact a small coal tar spill which the Ministry was aware of. The owners are in the process of cleaning up the spill under my office's supervision. My staff are on site 3-5 days a week during the clean up.
Regarding 249 Hess Street North and 245 Catharine Street North, in a joint effort, the ministry is coordinating with the City of Hamilton on the management of these sites to ensure that the sites remain secure and any potential impacts to the environment are mitigated.
Until the waste at both sites is properly characterized, the ministry is of the opinion that the materials are hazardous and the sites poses both an environmental and public health concern.
The ministry has ordered the owner to secure the sites, characterize the waste at both sites and remove the waste to appropriate waste disposal facilities. Since the owner has not taken any steps to comply with the ministry's order, it has been referred to our Investigations and Enforcement Branch to determine if charges are warranted under Ontario's Environmental Protection Act. We can not comment further on the investigation while it is ongoing. In the meantime, the City of Hamilton has secured these sites and ministry staff visit the sites several times a week.
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