Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Last Friday I took an old friend on an environmental tour of Elmira. Strictly Elmira, not of Woolwich Township. To my surprise after writing out a list I had over twenty locations of either contaminated sites or of sites which had spilled liquids or released fumes into the air contrary to the Environmental Protection Act. Many of these locations have either been sold or relocated or actually cleaned up to a certain extent.

The obvious ones are Uniroyal (Lanxess), Varnicolor Chemical (including Lot 91) and Nutrite (Hydro-Agri). Less obvious ones include the Strauss/Esso fuel depot on the north side of the current Woolwich Observer location and the four former municipal/industrial landfills located here within Elmira (Park St./M1/M2/Bolender). Also less known would be a cleanup done in front of the former Martin's Pet Food on Arthur St..

At least three gas stations have or had contaminated soil and groundwater namely Gord's at Snyder & Church, Voisin's where Shopper's Drug Mart is now located and the old Becker's on the corner of Arthur & Wyatt St.. beside the former Steddick Hotel.

Even less well known would be a spill from the former Flametech/Sunfire location on Bonnie Crescent that went into Landfill Creek. The foundry beside them also used to send out black clouds of smoke in late evening or early morning while visibility was poor. Borg Textiles was also conveniently overlooked along with many other polluters in the early 90s. They had a record of discharges to the Elmira Sewage Treatment Plant that damaged the biological/bacterial abilities of the plant. They were also conveniently located next to the Howard St. storm drains in the early 1980s when chlorobenzene was being discharged into them. Varnicolor took most of the heat for that although their groundwater tests came up negative for chlorobenzene.

Then there are a number of industries which totally escaped environmental scrutiny even to this day. Hard to believe for example that a dairy (Silverwoods) located right on the Canagagigue Creek at the north end of town never utilized it for disposal. There is another large factory just south of there again right beside the creek that has been around for a very long time. It has been bought and sold over the decades. Also in the area is a non-manufacturing site which grossly polluted the soil and most likely the groundwater. They were remediated a long time ago although it never became public. Also Elmira had a number of other textile factories including the Elmira Shirt & Overall Co. located on Park St. near Uniroyal. Aptly named Shirt Factory Creek runs behind their building. Air polluters would include the former Scavenger Recycling and Rothsay Concentrates.

This list doesn't cover everybody but you get the picture. Is it any wonder that Uniroyal in 1989 had so much support from the Chamber of Commerce, BIA and other industry and business leaders in town? Is it any wonder that our municipal councillors over the years generally knew where their bread was buttered with a few notable exceptions? Do not worry folks, Elmira is not the exception. An environmental history of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge is even worse.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


This posting is in response to the recent Waterloo Region Record article titled "Tap water gains converts but we still fuss with it". Essentially even tap water advocates admit that the taste of chlorine in the water puts people off. Thank goodness for that. Chlorine is not good for you. That said without chlorine we might have third world conditions requiring boiling of all drinking water in order to kill harmful bacteria and even viruses and protozoa. E.Coli, Coliforms, Cryptosporidium and Giardia ("Beaver Fever") all come to mind. But and it's a big butt; most of these nasty items are found in surface waters such as the Grand River, reservoirs, creeks and lakes. Groundwater, especially from deep wells, is basically protected by fifty to a hundred feet of sand, gravel and clay which filters out and prevents the intrusion of these unhealthy lifeforms. Also these lifeforms require oxygen which is much less available the deeper in the ground you go.

Chlorine health issues are well known. Chlorine is the carcinogenic compound in many industrial solvents such as Trichloroethylene (TCE), TCA, Chloroform, Dichloroethylene (DCE) and Vinyl Chloride a breakdown chemical of TCE. Chlorine use in tap water requires extensive testing for both chlorine residuals as well as for toxic and carcinogenic breakdown products of chlorine known as Trihalomethanes (THM). These THM chemicals include chloroform, bromodichloromethane and many others. There is even a group of chemicals known as Haloacetic Acids (HAA) which are also toxic by-products of the use of chlorine in water. NDMA which helped shut down the wells in Elmira has been formed in the past both within Sewage Treatment Plants as well as in Drinking Water Plants under certain conditions.

Overall I believe that the Region of Waterloo are on top of the latest technology involved in water treatment. That however still leaves a lot of problems not least of which is the lack of scientific knowledge regarding multiple low level toxins in drinking water. Having three or four toxic substances each just below the Ontario Drinking Water Standards (ODWS) is perfectly legal but that doesn't mean it is perfectly healthy. Atrazine, Glyphosate and other herbicides in my opinion have far too high a drinking water standard yet they are ubiquitous in our groundwater supplies. Many common toxics such as NDMA and Toluene are not reported in the Region's Annual Drinking water reports.

Deep groundwater while generally safe from bacteria, viruses and protozoa is not immune from industrial solvents. Yes our shallow groundwater is more heavily contaminated with them but gasoline and oil compounds as well as the heavier chlorinated solvents have all reached deeper aquifers throughout Waterloo Region. Many companies both large and small are responsible including Uniroyal (Lanxess), Varnicolor Chemical, Breslube (Safety-Kleen), CGT, Ciba-Geigy (Novartis), Northstar Aerospace, Canbar, Sunar and a host of other service stations, former coal gas installations and the list goes on and on. The treatment for these groundwater contaminants include activated carbon and more.

Bottled water which is sourced well away from industrial enterprises and taken from deep aquifers and is properly and carefully tested is your best health bet. Usually however it is not tested as carefully as tap water for a reason as I've explained all the problems with tap water which is either sourced from the Grand River and or from industrially contaminated aquifers in our towns and cities especially including Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge.

There are particular rural water supplies that scare the ever living bejesus out of me. Even though under the supervision and responsibility of Waterloo Region, the West Montrose water supply is a disaster waiting to happen. The Region have belatedly recognized that and are finally in the process of replacing it after years of supplementing/diluting? it with tanker trucks of imported water. Other problems exist and chlorine while indeed if used properly and carefully does kill bacteria and more, it is still a double edged sword. E.Coli as in Walkerton seventeen years ago killed seven and injured thousands very quickly. Proper chlorine use will eliminate that but long term is not good for you.

Myself, family and even past pets have all drunk filtered tap water. I believe that the activated carbon filter removes both chlorine and heavy metals leached overnight into the standing water from soldered plumbing connections. Running your tap for a minute first thing in the morning probably helps with both those problems. The odd morning the smell of chlorine coming from our tap is strong and unpleasant. It is also unhealthy.

Monday, August 14, 2017


A week from tomorrow (August 22/17) I will be back to Woolwich Council with a Delegation titled "A History Of the Bolender Park Landfill". I attended Council as a Delegate nearly two weeks ago regarding details of the ten Conestoga Rovers reports detailing methane monitoring that's being going on and off over the last thirty-four years. I presented to Council my Recommendations which emphasized due diligence and the precautionary principle.

Next Tuesday's Delegation will focus on the history of waste disposal in Elmira and how there have been four consecutive in town landfills. Each successive landfill as it reached its'capacity led to the hunt for the next one hence the history of the Bolender landfill. Also each landfill while serving the same purposes nevertheless had differences in their operation, duration and final uses. The fifth landfill was the Woolwich Landfill a few miles north of Elmira on Seiling Drive. After it was closed in 1988 all local waste was sent to the Erb St. Landfill in Waterloo, under the supervision of the Region of Waterloo. The date of its' closing is another one of those strange coincidences that occurred just prior to the closing of the municipal wellfields here in town.

There probably never has and never will be such a thing as a "perfect" landfill. Yes engineering has greatly improved them with bottom liners, leachate collection systems and methane collection systems. Historically none of these enhancements were known or available in the very early days. Nowadays they are standard operating procedure on modern landfills. That said recycling and composting have greatly reduced the volume required as well as the number of new landfills.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) have produced an eleven page report on the June 23, 2017 Flood Event. I assume that it is on their website although I received it from another source. I would describe the report as quite comprehensive, well written and pretty easy to understand. It includes Figures and Tables which truly give one the big picture and context in regards to how much rain descended, in how short a time and over how large a geographical area, all within the Grand River watershed. The numbers really are staggering.

That all said it has been a learning experience. Yes more can and needs to be done. Of that the West Montrose and other flooded citizens can be thanked for yelling loudly and clearly. No it's not likely nor even beneficial to magically lessen rainfall nor is it likely that "reservoir operations" during the downpour can ever actually prevent flooding. What can be done though seems to be twofold namely better weather forecasting and then quicker more accurate downstream communications.

The first aspect of weather forecasting is not directly part of the GRCA's mandate. This is up to Environment Canada and the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF). At this time it is unknown as to why those two bodies did not have any idea of the upcoming severity of the storm and quantities of rainfall. Perhaps the science of weather forecasting, like medicine, knows a lot but doesn't yet know what it doesn't know. Continued and ongoing research are required.

Downstream communications is crucial but this report also identifies communications upstream or more precisely upgradient. Most of our weather comes from the west. Communications between the GRCA and other Conservation Authorities to the west of us could give significant additional advance warnings of severe storms and rain. Hence warnings could actually go out before the rain has already started flooding rivers and low lying areas in our watershed. This seems like a really good idea.

While this is an excellent report there are a few items of which I am skeptical. These include estimates of the percentage of flow reduction that occurred courtesy of the various dams on the Grand, Conestogo and Canagagigue. Allegedly the flows through West Montrose were reduced by 32% thanks to the Shand Dam. The GRCA also appear to be taking credit for the fact that the Covered Bridge wasn't washed away or badly damaged. Again I'm skeptical. Perhaps the original builders of the Covered Bridge in West Montrose deserve credit for having built the Bridge so far above the normal elevation of the Grand River at that point.

Other than a little bureaucratic back patting it does appear that the GRCA are taking this very seriously and have come up with some communications improvements.

Friday, August 11, 2017


At a CPAC meeting in late March 2000 Crompton's recent spill of Toluene (Pink Spill) was under discussion. Pat Mclean, David Ireland (M.O.E.), Henry Regier (then of APT) and myself, Al Marshall were discussing who was responsible for the damage to the Elmira Sewage Treatment Plant and the creek. I asked Dave Ireland "Is there any other possible candidate in Elmira that has those volumes of toluene (other than Uniroyal)" David's response was "I'm not aware of any other company.". Keep in mind this was months if not years prior to Uniroyal finally admitting that they did it.

The year 2000 was particularily bad for Uniroyal as I'm about to clarify. It was hardly surprising that even the Canadian Chemical Producers Asscociation weren't able to hold their noses (literally?) and give Uniroyal verification under the *Responsible Care program. On March 22/2000 Bob Burtt of the K-W Record wrote a story outlining Uniroyal's current tribulations. These included facing 20 odour related charges for their fumigations of Duke St. and Elmira, Ontario. Secondly they were facing an Environmental Appeal Board Hearing regarding the M.O.E. Control Order which they appealed. The Control Order mandated public meetings on air emissions as well as greater work on-site to reduce those air emissions. Thirdly the ongoing uproar both by local authorities (Region of Waterloo & M.O.E.) as well as by CPAC and the public over Uniroyal's "pink spill" and their failure to admit to the damage they were responsible for.

The March 24, 2000 Elmira Independent had an article by Julie Sawyer regarding the "pink spill". Kieran Kelly, the Woolwich Fire Chief, suggested that approximately 800 gallons had been released. Tim Boose of Uniroyal advised that he had phoned the Elmira Sewage Treatment Plant at about 9:30 am. to advise them of a possible problem. They already were facing it. Ron Ormson of CPAC suggested that Fishing Act charges were possibly due because of the toluene in the creek.

In the April 18, 2000 K-W Record Henry Regier suggested that Uniroyal's proposed Open House on the matter was inadequate. Sylvia berg was also quoted on the matter. I stated "An open house will be a dog and pony show.".

Two days later in the Elmira Independent I was quoted by Julie Sawyer as saying "I'm not going tom sit through another CPAC dog and pony show. I will come out for a public meeting.". Clearly Uniroyal preferred a much more controllable format such that they would not be confronted by hard questioning from the public.

On April 27, 2000 in the K-W Record, it was announced that one of Uniroyal's allies on CPAC namely the Chamber of Commerce, had resigned from CPAC. Sylvia Berg responded in the Record and quite frankly, in my opinion, made asses out of the Chamber and their decision to support Uniroyal in this fashion.

Finally we had the Open House and as described in the April 28, 2000 K-W Record; David Ash and Uniroyal were confronted by the "Lawn Chair Brigade". This was the first time in fourteen months that David Ash faced UPAC. Quoting Bob Burtt "He made it clear Thursday he still regards the advisory committee as a waste of time for the company.". David Ash stated "They (UPAC) aren't regarded well in the community.". present at this meeting were UPAC members as well as Shannon Purvis Smith and Barb Zupko.

On May 27, 2000 the Woolwich Observer published an Editorial in which they crapped all over Uniroyal's citizen "survey", Uniroyal's behaviour, their verbal diarrhea, and finally their taking credit for work ordered by the Ontario Ministry of Environment.

All in all tough times for Uniroyal and their supporters in Elmira. Sorry but their return to UPAC/CPAC is upcoming.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


The Waterloo Region Record carried the following article on August 2, 2017 titled "Low levels of toxins found in blue-green algae at Conestogo Lake". This algae has slowly become ubiquitous over the last several years at dams and water impoundments throughout Waterloo Region. In past years I've seen it bad enough at the Woolwich reservoir north of Elmira that I would keep my dog out of the water. As she was a black lab you can understand how much she enjoyed going for a swim.

"Current weather conditions are ideal for the formation of blue-green algae and the conservation authority (GRCA) warns that blooms can appear at any time.". In the past I felt that warm weather, low rainfall and nutrients in the water such as nitrogen or phosphorous were the cause. Since then I know my friend and colleague Dr. Henry Regier has explained it in more detail to me but at the moment I'm drawing a blank.

Two phone numbers were provided in the Record article; one for reporting sightings of the algae to the Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060 and the other if you have experienced a health concern such as a skin rash after exposure. That number to the Wellinngton-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health is 1-800-265-7239 ext. 4753.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


Let's not forget of course the damage to local groundwater. Down gradient wells have been impacted and certainly it's hard to believe that the Regional wells near St. Agatha haven't been impacted as well. There has been a Liaison Committee for about twenty-five years and I attended a few of the early meetings. To my disappointment the focus was on blowing garbage and of course smells. Groundwater didn't seem to be on the radar despite the sometimes presence of hydrogeologist Wilf Ruland.

The August 2, 2017 Waterloo Region Record carried the following story titled "When the landfill smells, it may be the weather". Well generally speaking "weather" on its' own doesn't smell. However very still days may result in the inherent landfill odours not being diluted or blown away. Then the stink can definitely sit and hang around the local area.

Other more likely culprits are the plain volume of garbage going into the landfill each day. While it is covered with soil each evening obviously it is open and exposed to the air during the day. Hope was expressed that as garbage volumes lower through recycling and composting that odours will also lessen.

The other cause of odours is landfill gas which includes methane. We are advised in this article that "Odours are mainly controlled through a gas collection system that converts the gas to electricity.". Clearly there will be electricity ( & methane) produced by the Erb St. Landfill for decades after the Landfill is eventually closed.