Chemical cocktail leaking into Montreal river system

A watchdog set up to protect the environment in North America has released a report claiming up to eight million litres of diesel and two tonnes of hazardous PCBs have leaked into a Canadian river.

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) monitors pollution risks in Canada, the USA and Mexico.

Last week it decided to go public with a report that has been four years in the making, outlining pollution of the St Lawrence River from a landmark development, the Montreal Technoparc.

The Technoparc is held up as a paragon of redevelopment, but parts of it are built upon a former waste disposal site and dangerous pollutants have been leaching into the neighbouring river system.

CEC asserts that that Canada is failing to effectively enforce its own environmental laws.

According to the environmental watchdog, the offences being committed are punishable by fines or prison sentences – a potential blow to the current landowner, the City of Montreal.

The investigation began after a number of environmental NGOs alleged that Canada was dodging its legal responsibilities with regards to the site.

The CEC does not have powers to comment on the conduct of governments, merely to issue factual reports.

Its report does state, however, that government authorities were aware of the problem by the late 1980s but failed to take action as it believed it was impossible to determine the exact source of the contaminants and felt it would lose a legal battle if it took suspected polluters to court.

Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, one of the NGOs which originally called for the investigation, said: “The Commission’s investigation reveals willful blindness on the part of the federal government, inconsistent enforcement and apathy in the face of shocking levels of pollution.”

The NGO’s legal director Scott Edwards added: “This factual record definitively establishes a fundamental breakdown in enforcement and environmental protection on so many levels.

“Our hope is that it will provide the impetus for the Canadian government to finally act.

“The St Lawrence and the people who use this waterway have been paying the price of the government’s blatant disregard their safety for far too long.”

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie