Beth Cranston’s issues with living near a landfill stretch far beyond an unpleasant smell. She’s increasingly concerned about the impact toxic construction materials like asbestos could be having on the water in her community.
The dump, in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, has operated for almost two decades. The Annapolis Waterkeepers, a citizens group Cranston is part of, has been pushing for the province to do more water and soil testing in the area, and ultimately, for the dump to be moved.
As reported by the Halifax Examiner, a 2018 freedom of information request filed by the Annapolis Waterkeepers “showed the presence in groundwater of mercury, chromium, and dozens of other toxins at levels hundreds of times higher than Canadian Drinking Water standards.”
Most recently, the group commissioned a review from a groundwater expert, or hydrogeologist. The province’s most recent hydrogeological assessment of the site dates back to 2004 and states the ground is impermeable, so pollution isn’t able to leach down into waterways.
Upon reviewing the studies the assessment was based on, hydrogeologist Paul Hubley said the designation of impermeable is “not reasonable.” However, the Nova Scotia Department of Environment rejected the request.
Spokesperson Elizabeth MacDonald said the department “conducted a thorough review and analysis of the Hubley report, and our conclusion stands.”
“The 2004 hydrogeological assessment on the site conditions is still valid — the site conditions, including geologic and hydrogeologic conditions, did not change over the 20-year period. The ongoing water monitoring program provides additional information about the hydrogeological conditions of the site,” she said.
“No adverse impacts of the site activities to the groundwater have been identified through the groundwater monitoring program. However, ECC staff continue to respond and investigate concerns brought forward by local residents.”
The Annapolis Waterkeepers wanting more information from the province “have a point,” said Carman Kerr, MLA for Annapolis.
In Dec. 2022, Arlington Heights C&D Ltd. bulldozed wetlands on the property and was charged under the Environment Act. Charges were then withdrawn following an agreement, where the company is required to make a $15,000 donation to Ducks Unlimited.
“The original report that departments are working from — I don't want to use the word outdated, but it's almost 20 years old,” he said.
Overall, the province needs to build confidence with residents who have felt historically wronged by the landfill, said Kerr. It’s expanded since first opening, explained Kip McCurdy, a founder of the Annapolis Waterkeepers and Cranston’s father, but there has been little opportunity for public feedback. One exception was when the landfill expanded to accept asbestos, and there was a one-month period for residents to weigh in.
“It's in an area where very much it's out of sight, out of mind. No one travels on the road unless they live there, and there might be half a dozen houses on that road,” said Cranston.
“It's a very small community. I think they rely on us not knowing what's going on because a lot of people still don't have internet in this area and wouldn't have even seen notices about such a thing.”
A fire at the dump in 2018 saw toxic smoke released into the air. In 2021, the environment department investigated the landfill for accepting unauthorized materials, including autofluff, which is left over from automobile disposal and can include harmful materials such as lead. In December 2022, Arlington Heights C&D Ltd. bulldozed wetlands on the landfill property and was charged under the Environment Act. Those charges were withdrawn after an agreement between the environment department where the company would make a $15,000 donation to Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit organization focused on conserving wetlands.
“I don't think the punitive damages were enough to compensate for what had been done,” said Kerr.
Rather than allow the dump to operate at its current site on North Mountain, the Annapolis Waterkeepers have been pushing the provincial government to “establish a dedicated asbestos disposal facility, properly sited so that it threatens no one’s water, devalues no one’s land, is easily accessed by large trucks, and creates no danger for the motoring public.”