Last Friday, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper submitted our official comment on the draft environmental assessment report for the radioactive waste site clean-up project in Port Hope.
Waterkeeper has been part of the environmental assessment process since it began four years ago. At every stage of the process, we have tried to convey the importance of the clean-up project: to area residents, to the Lake Ontario watershed, and to environmental justice in Canada. Because the draft environmental assessment report contains so many omissions, because it is so vague about details, and because so many different government departments still remain silent, Waterkeeper is very concerned that we have failed.
In a last-ditch attempt to describe the significance of the Port Hope Project from a grassroots perspective, Waterkeeper included this background in our submission:
Seventy-five years ago, the nuclear industry came to Port Hope. It came in the name of peace & war, technological progress, and later clean energy. Since the very earliest days, low-level radioactive waste has contaminated parts of the Port Hope community. When waste sites were formally created in the 1940s, they were not equipped with environmental control technologies and, as a result, contributed to the spread of waste throughout the community.
Small-scale construction and development projects also contributed to the spread of contamination. Each post, beam, or pile of dirt moved from a contaminated area to a clean area created a new threat. The slow, unintentional spread of potentially harmful substances created a perverse legacy of pollution in an otherwise ordinary Ontario town. With it came fear: that property values might fall, that public health might be in jeopardy, and that jobs might be lost. Now, after an entire generation has grown up with this fear, there are neighbours who do not speak to each other. There are citizens who are ostracized for raising concerns. There are residents who are afraid to admit where they work.
If you consider everything this community has lost “ security, pride, clean air and water “ it becomes clear that the Port Hope Project is about much more than simply an engineered facility for waste. The Port Hope Project is about healing a community, both literally and figuratively.
No one disputes that mistakes were made in Port Hope in the past. No one disputes that this clean-up program must happen as soon as possible. Now it is time to ask the most important question: How? As in, How will we remove all of the contamination from our yards, parks, and ravines? And, How will we dispose of it correctly this time? And, How will we ensure that, when we are done, our town will be free from this shadow of contamination forever? And finally, How will we be transparent, so that every citizen knows that he or she has been protected?
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper respectfully submits that the draft screening report does not do this. It fails to reflect the enormity of this undertaking, its uniqueness, and the extent of the problems it is seeking to solve. There are many, many outstanding issues. The public needs more information, more access to decision-makers, and more opportunities to share wisdom and insight than it has currently been granted.
We have a town full of uncontained hazardous waste, a town that has already lost much of its natural heritage and social cohesion. Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Responsible Authorities must ensure that the Port Hope Project achieves and maintains a healthy environment and a healthy economy in this community for the first time in seventy-five years.
The past is defined by mistakes and losses. This era will be defined by the Authorities' decisions, now.
In light of this history, missing information, the need for greater scrutiny, and the role of provincial environmental laws, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper requested the following:
A. That key pieces of information currently missing from the draft screening report be fully canvassed and disclosed; and, B. That the responsible authorities request the Minister to refer the project to a review panel; and, C. That the LLRWMO apply for a certificate of approval for waste management, pursuant to the Ontario Environmental Protection Act.