Steve Ryan trudges down the beach in St. Mary’s. On one side is a picturesque bay that sweeps out into the ocean. On the other is something much less pleasing, looming near the edge of the water.
“It’s turned into a disaster zone for the town,” says Ryan, mayor of the community of 309 people on Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula.
What does he mean by “disaster zone”?
“We don’t really know, because we don’t know what we’re dealing with,” he says.
He’s talking about an abandoned fish sauce plant that hasn’t operated in about two decades.
On this bone-chilling January afternoon, the sub-zero temperatures dip further when the wind blows off the bay. But even in these frigid conditions, the acrid smell gets worse when you approach the dilapidated building. The air is so tangy you can actually taste it.
“The smell is just unbearable,” Ryan says.
It’s not an understatement. He says the worst times are late summer and early fall.
People in the community have complained for years about the rancid smell emanating from the building and the vats of decomposing product left inside — a mixture of capelin and pineapple juice. They are worried about potential health impacts.
Now CBC News has uncovered old testing results that have sparked new concerns in the community.
Environment Canada inspectors visited the site in late 2016, after receiving reports of effluent from the building flowing into the ocean.
They sent it to a laboratory in New Brunswick for testing. When they got the results, they immediately ordered a written directive under the Fisheries Act to make sure it didn’t get into the bay again.
“All fish placed in the effluent died within 15 minutes,” that Nov. 18, 2016, direction advises.
“The effluent deposited from the former fish plant sauce plant in St. Mary’s, N.L., was acutely lethal and therefore a deleterious substance under the Fisheries Act.”
A pipe was sealed to stop the effluent from running into the water.
Inspectors later went back to check and found no discharge — confirming that the directive issued under the Fisheries Act had been followed.
According to internal documents, Environment Canada decided against further enforcement action.
CBC News recently obtained those testing results through an access-to-information request, nearly four years after filing the request.
The mayor says he was never made aware of those findings. And he’s not happy about it.
“They never came to the town, to let us know how toxic this really is to fish and the environment,” Ryan said. “This is not right.”
The test results were also news to the local Liberal member of Parliament.
Avalon MP Ken McDonald said he raised the situation about the effluent in St. Mary’s with top federal environment department officials and was informed everything was fine.
“They had no concerns at all,” McDonald said.
McDonald now plans to go to the current environment minister to ask for help.
“I think somebody fell down on the job and actually left the people of St. Mary’s in a tangle that they shouldn’t be in today,” he said.
In a statement, Environment Canada did not answer questions about what was done to notify residents about the test results.
They said their responsibility is to protect the fish — which they did when the pipe was sealed to stop the product from entering the water.
They say any other concerns should be directed to the province.
Previous efforts to enlist federal and provincial financial aid were not successful.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government says it turned down a previous request for funding because it didn’t meet program criteria, and there are no other applications pending.
A waste management plan has been approved for the product, but cleanup is the responsibility of the owner.
That company dissolved 17 years ago, and the owner hasn’t been heard from in years.
Source : CBC