On February 26, Swan River First Nation and Keepers of the Athabasca collected core samples from Lesser Slave Lake to test for contamination from the Suez Hazardous Waste Treatment Centre in the Swan Hills.
The plant is 75 km southeast of Kinuso off Highway 33. It has been in the area since 1985.
There have been three undocumented ‘unplanned releases’ says Keepers’ 2015 challenge to the centre’s operation.
The three-person team consisted of John Willier (aka. the core whisperer), environmental monitor for Swan River First Nation, Theo Charette, environmental consultant with CPP Environmental, and Jule Asterisk, program coordinator with Keepers of the Athabasca.
Asterisk: This testing is alongside the appeal raised by Keepers, Swan River, and individuals against the 10-year operational approval for the Hazardous Waste Treatment Centre. This is an extension of the 2015 challenge to the plant’s operating license. The original challenge was signed by 35 people. Some have since died. A further nine people wrote appeals this time.
There was also an appeal in the late 1990s. People have raised both environmental and health concerns.
“The concerns have never been addressed in good faith,” says Asterisk.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was talk of accepting waste from other countries.
In 2003, Asterisk was part of a NAFTA conference on the issue in Ottawa. There were delegates from Canada, the United States, and Mexico.
Everyone at the meeting agreed, says Asterisk, that “if you make it, you treat it,” which is what ended up happening.
The Swan Hills plant treats waste from across Canada, says Asterisk. It specializes in Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The Lesser Slave Lake core samples will be tested for dioxins and furans, which are created when PCBs burn. Forest fires also emit a low amount of dioxins, but the lab can fingerprint the dioxins to find out if they come from burning wood, PCBs, or something else.
“Hopefully, we don’t find any,” says Asterisk.
Asterisk: In 2007, a small amount of PCBs were found in the Swan River, which is highly unusual as PCBs sink quickly.
Some tests done in 2009 were reported in a 2015 report done for Lesser Slave Watershed Council.
A few months after the 2009 samples were taken there was another unexpected release at the plant, says Asterisk.
This report is the State of the Watershed. On page 10, there is a graph with two PCB peaks. The notes beside it say that the first starts in the 1960s, when PCBs were invented, and peaks in the 1980s, when they were banned. The other shorter peak is in the 1990s, which might coincide with an accidental release from the hazardous waste plant at that time.
The report is available on LSWC’s website.
The hope is that the new samples will find these peaks, says Asterisk. Testing done by Suez and Keepers in 2018 didn’t find these peaks, which Asterisk says is suspicious.