Lake Ontario Waterkeeper fought one of the most important legal battles in Ontario from 2006-2009: the Lafarge Alternative Fuels case (aka, the "Dawber" case) affirmed the public's right to intervene when the Ontario government fails to consider the unique interests of a community. It also confirmed that the Ministry of the Environment is legally obligated to consider its Statement of Environmental Values when making decisions that could affect the environment.
We were joined on the Lafarge case by other environmental heavyweights, including Ecojustice and the Canadian Environmental Law Association. We were supported at every step of the way by our Trustee for Lake Ontario, Gord Downie. And we worked alongside dozens of residents of the Bath and Kingston community.
The Lafarge case was mainly about what would happen if the cement giant started burning tires, bone meal, plastics, and other "alternatives" to coal, petroleum coke, and natural gas. Lafarge eventually abandoned the plan, and the legal case came to an end.
In the process of researching community concerns about alternative fuels, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper staff and summer students learned a lot about the waste site that Lafarge manages at its Bath facility. We discovered what we felt were some pretty serious problems with the licence for the landfill. When the fuels case went to court, our hydrogeologist kept working with Lafarge outside of the hearing room to develop a better plan for managing all that cement kiln dust waste.
Concerned about the cement kiln dust landfill
Cement Kiln Dust, or CKD, is captured from the cement kiln’s exhaust gas by the air pollution control system. It is made up mostly of finely ground raw feed materials (primarily native limestone from the on site quarry), fuel ash, and minerals/salts derived from the raw materials and fuels. CKD can be a corrosive, toxic substance. Exposure to wet kiln dust can cause serious, potentially irreversible tissue damage to the skin, eye, or respiratory tract due to chemical burns, including third degree burns.
Lafarge opened the cement kiln dust (CKD) landfill on its property in 1975. When we first learned about the landfill, Lafarge was landfilling an average of 28,521 tonnes of CKD a year. (That’s about the same amount of waste as would be created by 94,000 people.) Lafarge had a certificate of approval for the landfill, but it required government approval of the management plan for the northern portion of the site.
We were shocked to learn that a cold water creek flowed through Lafarge's property and pooled near the waste site. Lafarge would then release a mixture of cement kiln dust and creek water into Bath Creek a couple times a year - all with the Ontario government's consent.
Bath Creek runs through the town of Bath and into Lake Ontario beside the town's beach and drinking water intake. We couldn't find any public notices or warning signs to let residents know when CKD-contaminated waters were being released. As far as we know, most people in Bath didn't even know it was happening.
Meanwhile, back at Lafarge, the CKD landfill had mingled with groundwater, which migrated underground to a neighbouring property. And it was all happening with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment's approval.
Protecting Lake Ontario
Our hydrogeologist, Wilf Ruland, started talking to Lafarge about the landfill back in 2006. He conducted some preliminary investigations and reported some of his concerns to Lafarge, noting that what was being released into Bath Creek couldn't be good for the water.
About a year ago, Wilf and Lafarge created a new management plan for Lafarge's cement kiln dust landfill, with a particular focus on the older landfill. Now, Lafarge's management program will go well beyond current environmental standards and also sets the stage for near elimination of leachate flows into groundwater and the eventual elimination of detention pond discharges. Lafarge submitted its new landfill plan to the Ministry of the Environment for approval.
The approval came this month. The Waterkeeper/Lafarge agreement calls for the installation of an impermeable membrane cap that will provide increased protection from water infiltration. Lafarge will also provide additional monitoring wells as encouraged by Waterkeeper's hydrogeologist, Wilf Ruland.
Lafarge is pleased with the arrangement: "We arrived at this agreement because we both had the goal of finding a practical way of improving the landfill site," stated Robert Cumming, environmental manager for Lafarge's Bath Plant. "This has been a productive and collaborative effort and we've found Waterkeeper to be a very constructive partner. This shows what can be achieved when business and environmental groups work together."
We are pleased with the arrangement: "Our primary goal has always been the protection of Bath Creek and Lake Ontario," says Waterkeeper & President Mark Mattson. "We are genuinely pleased that Lafarge worked so well with our hydrogeologist to develop a management programme that will improve and protect the environment. We hope that the work may begin as soon as possible."
Years after we were first alerted to environmental issues in Bath, and about two hundred thousand dollars of legal and scientific efforts later, we think that Bath Creek and Lake Ontario are far better protected than they were until now.