Tempers flare at Clean Harbors meeting

Cathy Dobson in The Observer — where a few photos are posted as well

Fix stench or shut down, say neighbours

BRIGDEN — A public meeting Tuesday that was meant to reassure neighbours of Clean Harbors’ hazardous waste site was reduced at times to a shouting match. About a dozen of the 50 in attendance stormed out of the Brigden Fair Exhibition hall in frustration.

“We’ve listened to your dog and pony show. Now it’s time to listen to us,” yelled an angry Butch Houle.

He and many other neighbours of the Telfer Road facility have been disturbed by a stench intermittently coming from Clean Harbors since August.

The odour, which the company says comes from too much on-site leachate, has driven neighbours from their homes, made them nauseous, stung their eyes and sent at least one man to hospital.

“When the ministry (of environment) ordered two truckloads removed from the site every day, why wasn’t that achieved?” Norm O’Neill. demanded. “It’s all a smoke and mirrors game.”

“We are not being heard. Our concerns are not being addressed,” said Joe Dickenson, a Lambton County beef farmer.

“I think a lot of this issue is airborne, not necessarily leachate but all you do is focus on leachate because it might be the easiest thing to address.”

Many people called for the plant to shut down.

“I’d like you to clean up your mess and go home,” one man shouted.

For most of the two-hour meeting, Clean Harbors’ management sat quietly at the back of the room.

General Manager Chris Brown spoke briefly, apologizing for the stench and promising that the company is working to correct it.

“The company is committed to fixing this issue,” he said. “We deeply regret this summer’s odours.”

Rod Brooks, a representative from Ortech Environmental, spoke about air sampling on 10 occasions during odour events.

The air is tested for 38 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)and none surpass regulatory standards, he said.

Greg Ferrar, senior environmental engineer with Conestoga Rovers & Associates, said his company is hired to devise a leachate abatement plan and is focused on reducing the amount of leachate generated as well as reducing the amount already on-site through incineration.

But most of the meeting was conducted by a hired facilitator, Bryan Boyle, who allowed few to speak. Instead, he tried to engage the angry group by having them write down their thoughts about Clean Harbors and what they believe the solution to the stench might be.

Many in the crowd didn’t want to write anything down.

“Forget this Romper Room nonsense,” said Jim Stenton of Petrolia Line. “We want answers because we’re stunk out of our homes.

“You’re wasting our time,” he hollered. ”

One resident walked up to the front of the hall and stuck a note on the wall that read: “As usual, all talk, no action.”

“I want people from Clean Harbors to hear the emotion that I hear and I want them to come up and tell us what they are going to do,” said St. Clair Township Mayor Steve Arnold.

It was only after several got up and left in anger, that the company’s senior vice-president of regulatory affairs spoke.

Phil Retallick said exhaustive studies confirm the odour is coming from leachate, not the plant’s incinerator or a new Thermal Desorption Unit.

“It’s sulfites in the leachate and it doesn’t contain carcinogens or other toxic compounds,” Retallick said.

“There are no compounds of any risk associated with the vapours, but it is a nuisance and we will deal with that. Our experts say it will take four to six months depending on the rainfall this winter.”

Retallick said Clean Harbors has no choice but to reduce its on-site leachate by May because of a directive from the Ministry of Environment.

There will be further public meetings about odour abatement, he said.


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