Given the source of the inky pollution, quite possibly so
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted August 1st, 2017 on Niagara At Large
On the last full weekend of this July, countless thousands of visitors who had come to cast eyes on one of the world’s ‘natural wonders’, were treated to a sight that was far from wonderful.
This past Saturday, July 29th, on what would otherwise have been a nice warm, sunny afternoon to view the American and Horseshoe Falls from either side of the Ontario/New York border, what The Buffalo News later described as a “foul-smelling, black discharge cam billowing out into the Niagara River within sight of the base of the American Falls, alarming city businesses and tourists as it engulfed the shoreline from the Rainbow Bridge to the Maid of the Mist boat dock” along the American side.
“I was just praying it wasn’t an oil leak,” Pat Proctor, vice president of Rainbow Air Inc., which offers tourists helicopter rides above the falls, was quoted telling the Buffalo newspaper. “It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.”
As it turned out, the source of the ‘blob’, which remained visible into the night and seemed to disappear by the following morning, was the Niagara Falls, New York waste water treatment plant – a plant which, some three and a half decades ago, earned a notorious reputation on both sides of the international border for reasons I will explain in a moment.
According to The Buffalo News, the operators of the plant were performing a temporary discharge – one that was apparently permitted by the city and state government – of sewage sediment from one of five of the plant’s sediment filtration basins in preparation for some construction work planned for the basin the following week.
That’s not great to hear, but fair enough in the sense that just two years ago, the Quebec and federal governments in Canada allowed a pretty massive overflow of raw sewage into the Saint Lawrence River due to some construction work that needed to be done in Montreal.
The problem with the Niagara Falls, New York Waste Water Treatment Plant, though, is that unlike most other municipal treatment plants on the continent, it was also built in the 1970s with a system of carbon beds in place for filtering out a witch’s brew of poisons piped to the plant as effluent from Occidental, Olin and other chemical manufacturing plants in the city.
In the late 1970s, not too long after the Niagara Falls plant went into operation, those carbon beds completely collapsed and for years after that until they were finally rebuilt, tests by the New York State Department of Conservation and shared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada, showed that this plant was the largest single direct dischargers of toxic chemicals showing up in fish and sediment samples collected all over the lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
It’s been a while now since I covered environmental stories full-time for the mainstream media, so I am not completely up to date how much effluent from what chemical manufacturers still operating in Niagara Falls, New York is piped to that plant for treatment, prior to release to the Niagara River.
But when I read the “blob” story in The Buffalo News this July 31st, I could not help but wonder and worry.
The good news is that New York State environment officials are apparently investigating the weekend incident and the Buffalo newspaper – one of the last really good newspapers we have from Western New York and Southern Ontario – plans to follow this story along. I will do what I can to keep Niagara At Large readers informed of the results, and if any of you out there learn something more before I do, please feel free to fire me off an email at email@example.com and I will consider posting it here.
The bad news when it comes to anything like what happened at the Falls late this July is that most of the news reporters, environmentalists and government environmental watchdogs who were around 20 or 30 years ago to keep a close eye on hotspots along the Niagara River and around the Great Lakes have either retired or been phased out of work, or are no longer with us at all.
I can just imagine how tenaciously the late, great Margherita Howe, the head of a now-gone, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario-based group called Operation Clean, would be working to get to the bottom of what was in that blob and what impact it had on the lower river and lake – not to mention why it was discharged in the first place – if she and her many sister and brother activists were still around.
Incidents like this also revive concerns and questions I have about what else may be entering the Niagara River and Great Lakes from other sources – including those monster dumps like Love Canal, Hyde Park and S-Area along the American side of the river where tens-of –thousands of highly toxic chemicals, including the most potent strain of dioxin, remain buried, and the man-made containment structures constructed around them in decades gone by could, by now, be deteriorating or breaking down.
There are nowhere near the number eyes in and outside of government to keep watch on these toxic hot spots any more.
Before I finish, where does that filthy scum one can see, on a fairly regular basis, floating in the waters immediately below the Horseshoe and American Falls and what is in it?
I find it curious that no significant others on either side of the border seems to raise much of a concern over this scum. Could it be that they are afraid to raise a fuss out of it for fear of possibly tarnishing the Falls’ world-wide brand as a ‘natural wonder’?
Might we have a story line here similar to the one in the 1970s film classic ‘Jaws’ where the mayor of the sea-side, tourist town didn’t want anyone to know there was a shark in the water?
If anyone out there has any more information they care to share about the origin and the make-up of those now fairly perennial globs of scum floating the swirling currents below the Falls, feel free to fire it in to the same firstname.lastname@example.org address.
Anyone else who wishes to share a comment of their own on this post, please do so in the space below.
You can also read the entire Buffalo News story on the blob by clicking on – http://buffalonews.com/2017/07/30/sewage-tank-discharge-alarms-niagara-falls-businesses-tourists/
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