Ontario Ministry of Environment’s Response? – “It’s Not Our Place To Get Involved.”
“The discharge clearly violated water quality standards, which prohibit discharges that adversely affect colour, cause odour or cause a substantial visible contrast to natural conditions,” said a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation official of the massive ‘blob’ of waste discharged immediately downstream from the Horseshoe and American Falls this past Saturday, July 29th
A News commentary by Doug Draper
Posted August 2nd, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Now there is a profile of leadership we see all too rarely in a government representative these days.
For a governor of a state that almost always has a mind-boggling mountain of issues on the plate, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has wasted no time calling on his state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to carry out a thorough investigation of a discharge from a Niagara Falls, New York wastewater treatment that put a scare into countless thousands of visitors to Falls this past weekend.
The discharge occurred on the late afternoon of July 29th and lingered as what was described as a dark, stench-ridden ‘blob’ that lingered immediately downstream from the world-famous Falls into the night before disappearing by sunrise the following day.
The operators of the Niagara Falls, New York plant reportedly had a DEC permit to temporarily discharge sediment-type material prior to some construction work being done on the plant. But according to an August 2nd, front-page story in The Buffalo News, DEC officials are now of the view that – permit or no permit – other violations may have been committed in the process.
What else would explain such a massive, unsightly discharge like the one documented on videos taken from helicopters flying tourists over the Falls at the time and – unfortunately for Niagara Falls tourist promoters – broadcast on networks around the world.
But aside from any temporary hit the Falls may have taken as a tourist destination, the reason why Governor Cuomo’s prompt call for an investigation is so important is that we – meaning all of us on both sides of the border who share the Niagara River and Lake Ontario as a vital, freshwater resource – need to know what was in that so-called ‘blob’ and what impact it may be having, short or long term, on these water bodies as a source of drinking water and a fishery, among other life-sustaining uses.
That Niagara Falls, New York plant, as I noted in a post on this Niagara At Large site this August 1st, has not only had a history as a treater of municipal wastewater from that city, but has also been used as a primary treater of toxic effluent from nearby chemical manufacturing plants.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, when carbon filters at that plant were broken down, it was identified in reports produced by the DEC, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ontario Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada at the time as the single worst discharger of toxic chemicals to the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
So we should all welcome Governor Cuomo’s call for a probe.
And what of the reaction from governments on the Ontario side of the border?
Well, we have Lindsay Davidson, a media relations flack for the Ontario Ministry of Environment, quoted saying in The St. Catharines Standard this August 2nd that there have been no calls from the ministry’s St. Catharines district office or from its Spills Action Centre about the incident.
“The ministry does not have any involvement as the incident occurred in the U.S.A.,” the provincial environment ministry flack reportedly added in an email.
Very sad to say that this takes me back to the bad old days when I began my work as an environment reporter at The Standard in the late 1970s when there was one report after another of poisons reaching the Niagara River from discharge pipes and waste dumps used by chemical companies in the Niagara Falls, New York area. What we got from Ontario environment ministry officials at the time was virtually the same being dished out by this ministry spokesperson now – “It’s not our place to get involved because it is happening on the U.S. side.”
Citizen groups and environment reporters, including yours truly, used to saw that it was as if our Ontario ministry people believed there was some kind of impermeable membrane stretched along the middle of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario that kept dioxin and other toxic substances from the American dumps out of Canadian waters.
The response from the Ontario ministry spokesperson to this latest July 29th incident is disturbing, to say the least.
Last I heard, the Niagara River is shared water body falling under the jurisdiction of Canada/U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty and subject to a series of Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements negotiated and approved by governments in both countries through the Canada/U.S. International Joint Commission.
The Ontario Ministry of Environment is supposed to be a party to those agreements. And at one time at least, it was also party to a four-party agreement it signed in the late 1980s with Environment Canada, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to clean up and protect the waters of the Niagara River from discharges of pollution.
Apparently the Niagara River agreement has fallen by the wayside or something and, unfortunately, many of the citizen leaders who lobbied so hard to see it signed and put into practice are gone now.
So thank God the governor of New York State, at least, has called for an investigation of this latest pollution incident.
I have a feeling that given Cuomo’s record as a very activist governor, he would have been just as ready to issue a call for action if the discharge had originated from the Ontario side of the river.
Why? Because at least he behaves as though he knows that the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, downstream, are shared waters that governments and citizens on both sides of the border have a responsibility to look after for present and future generations.
You can watch a news report on the July 29th pollution incident by clicking on the screen below –
To read one of the most recently filed Buffalo News stories on the July 29th discharge incident, click on – http://buffalonews.com/2017/08/01/dec-falls-discharge-clearly-violated-water-quality-standards/ .
You can also read an earlier, August 1st Buffalo News story on the Niagara River discharge incident by clicking on – http://buffalonews.com/2017/07/30/sewage-tank-discharge-alarms-niagara-falls-businesses-tourists/
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