ELMIRA WATER WOES: THE TRIUMPH OF CORRUPTION, DECEIT, AND CITIZEN BETRAYAL

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ALAN MARSHALL HAS WRITTEN HIS FIRST BOOK. I HAVE INCLUDED THE LINKS HERE.. 27 CHAPTERS IN ALL

Editors Note: I would like to thank Alan personally for all the effort he puts into his work. We need more like you Alan.. Thank you for sharing this with us..


ELMIRA WATER WOES: THE TRIUMPH OF CORRUPTION, DECEIT, AND CITIZEN BETRAYAL


BY
ALAN G. MARSHALL

©2019








TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter One:

Pg.

1 …. The Beginning

2 …. Contamination

2 …. Other Players and Potential Contributors

3 …. Trouble in Paradise

3 …. Municipal Water, Sewer, and Waste Disposal

4 …. The Natural Environment

5 …. Early Remediation

6 …. Awakenings

7 …. The Province, the Ministry, and the Feds

8 …. The Shoe Finally Drops




The Beginning

A large toxic waste site is located in Elmira, Ontario, south of Church Street (Waterloo Regional Road 86 also known as Highway #86) and east of Union Street. It surrounds part of the Canagagigue Creek (the Creek) and fittingly a cemetery is located on the north-east border of the property. Additionally the Stroh farm that produces corn and soybeans is on the east side of the site. The Martin farm is south and east of the toxic site. The Elmira Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) is located south of the site and was
created from both the former town dump and reclaimed land from the 1962 realignment of the Creek.

This long time toxic waste site has been owned by a succession of corporate interests starting with the Elmira Felt Co. in 1898 who produced footwear 1. By 1917, the Canadian Consolidated Rubber Co. produced tennis shoes closing due to the Great Depression in 1929 2 Naugatuck Chemical Co., the chemical division of Dominion Rubber Co., purchased this Elmira property in 1941. Dominion Rubber Co. was the Canadian subsidiary of the U.S. Rubber Co. 3

Naugatuck Chemical Co. was renamed Uniroyal Chemical Ltd. (Uniroyal) in 1966. The plethora of corporate names has continued unabated ever since with Crompton & Knowles, Chemtura Canada, and, most recently, Lanxess Canada Inc., which was a subsidiary of Bayer based in Germany. A skeptic could be forgiven for believing that this long succession of owners is at least partly related to an attempt to cloud the environmental stigma of owning this Elmira site.

Contamination

This environmental stigma includes the production and irresponsible disposal of some
extremely nasty and indeed infamous chemical compounds used in the agricultural industry as well as by the U.S. and Canadian military. The disposal locally of Dichlororodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and Agent Orange has caused the most damage although explosive stabilizers and solvents used in rubber additives have compounded the problem. Other insecticides and herbicides, such as lindane, endosulfan, parathion and associated chemicals have damaged the air, the soil, and both groundwater and surface water. N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) contamination however garnered the most attention in 1989 as was likely intended by the various authorities and Uniroyal .

By 1945 and the end of the Second World War, production at Naugatuck had shifted away from explosive stabilizers and was focused on rubber additives as well as agricultural fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides. This factory in Elmira was one of the very first North American locations to manufacture DDT . This so called wonder chemical was indeed deadly towards mosquitoes, and hence, helped win various wars on malaria around the world. It came though at an incredible cost as it moved up the food chain and was absorbed into creek and river sediments, then into fish, and eventually into birds of prey. It isn’t too surprising that even recently the Canadian government has been reluctant to credit either the company or the location for its manufacture .

Other Players And Potential Contributors

Contrary to popular belief Uniroyal was not the only chemical handling or using facility in Elmira, after the Second World War. Their next door neighbour to the south and west was Read Brothers Fertilizers, later known as Genstar, Nutrite Inc., Yara, and finally SNC-Lavalin. Nutrite took over in 1979 and began to focus on blending different fertilizers including some with herbicides included. Its raw materials included nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, 2, 4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) as well as a product known as dimethylamine. Its addition to the contamination of the drinking water aquifers was kept secret from the public until 2000 when Uniroyal demanded assistance from them by insisting they help pay for additions to its ammonia groundwater treatment system.

Farther down the street was a little company known as Varnicolor Chemical Ltd. (Varnicolor). The owner Severin Argenton liked to brag that he was a recycler of used solvents. This company also operated a licensed hazardous waste disposal site located right in town. Varnicolor had been on its site since 1962 and Mr. Argenton also was known to say that he had never had a spill that impacted the environment. Mr. Argenton claimed that he was detoxifying many of the hazardous wastes that came to his door. In fact, he was mostly storing them outdoors and letting the sun, wind, rain, and snow dilute them, evaporate them, and /or spill them onto the bare ground where they quickly soaked into the sand and gravel yard. He did send liquid Waste Derived Fuels to a cement kiln in Michigan, United States where they were burned as part of its production process. Mr. Argenton had previously worked for Naugatuck and he had seen first-hand how it dealt with its wastes. Mr. Argenton also obtained a property in the floodplain of the Creek, south-east of his main site. It was called Lot 91 and became infamous in its own right both for leaking road tankers, intentionally leaking tanks with used solvents in them, and for buried drums filled with waste chemicals, solvents and even Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) in them. In 1993, Mr. Argenton received the then longest jail sentence for environmental crimes in Canadian history.

Located between Uniroyal and Varnicolor was Sulco Chemicals, later known as Canada Colours Co. (CCC). The company produced sulphuric acid for industries and other chemical companies. In its earlier days in Elmira, there were some fires on site and some terrible air emissions including toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S). The company, however, had a major turnaround at the end of the 1990s and embraced the ethic of *Responsible Care in Elmira, unlike Uniroyal, their neighbour to the north.
Just south of Varnicolor and across Howard Avenue was Borg Textiles Canada Inc. (Borg). Borg was famous for its brand name Borg fabrics among other textile products. Allegedly workers never dumped wastes on the company property; however after 1965 they were suspected of discharging its high strength liquid wastes into the Elmira Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). These discharges were reputed to kill the bacteria used to break down wastes at the STP. In the early 1980s, orange discharges, possibly of chlorobenzene, were seen in the storm drains running between Varnicolor and Borg. As chlorobenzene was allegedly never found on the Varnicolor site it begs the question as to where it came from. In the 1980s, Mr. Argenton vigorously denied that it came from his site; however, based on his vigorous denials a decade later, even after being caught dumping other solvents and worse, his denials shouldn’t carry too much weight.

Other industries in Elmira included Sanyo Canadian Machine Works Inc. (Sanyo) on Industrial Drive as well as the Elmira Shirt and Coverall Co., Walco Equipment Ltd. on Arthur Street and from 1945 to the 1970s, McKee Harvesters at the south end of Elmira. Silverwood Dairy at the extreme north end of Elmira was alleged to routinely dump their liquid food wastes into the Creek which ran beside the factory. There was a furniture factory on Union Street beside Uniroyal. It was originally known as the Elmira Furniture Company and later as Roxton Furniture Ltd. Martin Pet Foods is also located at 43 Arthur St. and there was a sub-surface cleanup of the current parking lot area in front of their buildings many years ago. The Strauss Fuel Depot, owned by Imperial Esso, was across the road from Martin Pet Foods.

The Strauss Fuel Depot was operated by Bill Strauss a long time Wellesley Township councillor (1969 to 1975) and Woolwich Township councillor (1985 to 1994) and he was mayor of Woolwich Township from 1997 to 2010. Mr. Strauss also owned and operated a service station in Heidelberg, a village several kilometers to the south-west . Both these properties were highly contaminated with petroleum products and required extensive cleanup. I worked on the cleanup of the Strauss Fuel Depot in Elmira several years back and the Heidelberg service station is still under remediation in 2018. The Strauss Fuel Depot was immediately beside the Creek and most likely discharged contaminated groundwater resulting from spills and leaks into the creek. Only in Elmira could such a polluter not only be a councillor but end up as a mayor and also on Regional Council. There is a business located not far from the North Wellfield. It has never been made public but it required serious remediation after contamination was discovered on its property. My understanding is that it was cleaned up after the 1989 Elmira water well closures. This garnered no public or media attention. Lastly Elmira has been blessed by multiple service stations with leaking gas and or diesel tanks. The old Gord’s service station by Snyder and Church Street was one of them as well as a gas station at Park and Arthur Street. . The second one had impacted the former Steddick Hotel site as well as its own property. Thirdly was Voisin Motors now the site of Shoppers Drug Mart in downtown Elmira. It was extensively remediated several years ago although likely the municipal drinking water aquifer was impacted by it.

Trouble In Paradise

There were signs of environmental trouble on the horizon. A local trapper, Ken Reger, who also worked at Uniroyal reported chemical contamination in furs of muskrat and other fur- bearing animals in the 1980s. The pelts stank so badly they were not saleable. By 1963 farmer Earl Stroh on the east side of Uniroyal, lost crops from leakage from Uniroyal Chemical’s east side pits and ponds. 4 In the same year, further south, farmer Leander Martin lost a number of cattle who had drunk from the Creek. 5 The cattle apparently didn’t even make it back to the barn before dying. By this time, after twenty years of chemical production and third world disposal methods, the Creek was in huge trouble. It stank, the fish died, sometimes it ran in different colours, and, in fact, if not totally devoid of life, it was extremely close. The assault upon it was staggering. Workers at Uniroyal were dumping solids, liquids, and sludges into various unlined pits and ponds on both sides of the Creek. These pits and ponds often overflowed and the wastes ran overland directly into the creek as well as infiltrated into the ground and dissolved into the groundwater; which then discharged into the Creek. During the 1960s Uniroyal sent approximately 166,000 Imperial gallons of liquid toxic wastes per day via two pipelines across the Creek into two unlined, open waste ponds. With or without precipitation, it’s hard to believe that these ponds didn’t overflow regularly.

Ken Reger also testified at the second Uniroyal Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) hearings in Elmira in the early 1990s. He stated that muskrats on the Uniroyal site were much smaller and thinner than elsewhere 6. Similarly, the backwater at Uniroyal’s north end near Church Street held carp that were half the size of carp further upstream in the Creek. 7 He felt this difference in size was likely due to oil of aniline sludges being used to build up the eastern shore of this backwater area of the Creek. Aniline sludges contain benzene and some of these sludges would slide into the water. Furthermore, finished product would spill from overflowing storage holding tanks. The product was soaked up using gravel that was then shovelled into 45 gallon drums. Mr. Reger testified that these drums and gravel and remaining product “…were usually dumped in the town dump (at the south end of the Uniroyal property), as it was a gooey mess”. 8 Mr. Reger further gave evidence that there were “many pure herbicide spills due to overflowing of tanks…When it became too soupy to walk in more road gravel would be spread there and periodically a front-end loader would take this, usually to the town dump, and fresh gravel would be spread in these areas.” 9

Other former Uniroyal employees as well as citizens also spoke at the EAB hearing regarding the damage and harm that Uniroyal had done to the community over the decades prior to the drinking wells being shut down. Esther Thur, a long time local resident, gave accounts of the chemical odours at nights that wafted through town. She mentioned how the tomatoes in gardens around town all absorbed airborne chemicals and were inedible.10 Incredibly local currency (paper money) in Elmira actually smelled of Uniroyal chemicals.11 West of and next door to the Uniroyal property , the Elmira Furniture Co. and later Roxton Furniture, had to close the windows against fumigations from Uniroyal during the day. Sometimes, the employees, who included Esther Thur’s husband, Ed, were sent home early as they became ill from the fumes.12 Mr. Thur predeceased Esther Thur by many years and Esther Thur, who died in 2004, had blamed Uniroyal for years for the cancers she suffered from. This testimony was written in the Elmira Independent by reporter Roddy Turpin who was the only reporter present for the entirety of the EAB hearings.

Municipal Water, Sewer, and Waste Disposal

Shortly after Naugatuck Chemical reopened the shuttered factory located conveniently with a naturally made waste sewer (the Creek) running down its middle, the town of Elmira decided to provide municipal water to its inhabitants. Private wells had been the norm but in 1944 the first municipal well, E2 (Elmira Well #2) was commissioned. It was located five or six hundred metres north-west of Naugatuck Chemical . This was a very bad idea but it is reasonable to suggest that none of the local councillors or other authorities was negligent. This well was only slightly upgradient via groundwater flow and would be better described as cross-gradient to the direction of natural groundwater flow which was primarily southwards. Further exacerbating future problems more drinking water wells were added to what became known as the North Wellfield. E5 was commissioned in 1947, E6 in 1957, E8 in 1972 and E5A in 1984. In hindsight, the degree of political and environmental incompetence and negligence grew with the addition of each new well so close to the now Uniroyal Chemical factory. In essence the greater the pumping at the North Wellfield the greater the natural southwards flow of groundwater that was diverted north–westwards towards this relatively new wellfield. A pumping well, especially one pumping day in and day out lowers the groundwater levels around it and in effect produces a very wide ranging cone of influence. Hence groundwater further away will tend to move downhill towards where the top of the groundwater surface has been lowered by regular pumping.

Oddly, in hindsight at least, 1961 was the start of ongoing and long term groundwater exploration programs in and around the town of Elmira. By 1961 Elmira’s North Wellfield consisted of wells E2, E5 and E6. The wells were drilled into a deeper municipal aquifer with both having enough thickness as well as areal extent to be able to readily sustain Elmira’s 1961 population. Allegedly the wells provided good quality water free from contamination. Elmira in the 60s certainly wasn’t the bedroom community it has become for Kitchener-Waterloo. Hence, it seems rather incongruous to be spending money at this time looking for something that the community had in abundance.

In 1965 construction began on the Elmira (STP). Until then, municipal sewers carried human waste to a massive surface tank on the west side of the Creek, an area which was later owned by Nutrite Inc. The overflow from this tank went untreated into the Canagagigue Creek. The plan was to use this new STP for both municipal and industrial waste treatment. In fact, Uniroyal contributed financially to building the Elmira STP. The actual property that the STP occupies, remains next to Uniroyal’s southern property border. Uniroyal’s extreme south-west property had formerly been Municipal Landfill #2, known as M2. It operated from 1936 until 1962 and contained municipal garbage, foodstuffs, lawn and garden wastes, paper, ashes, and industrial wastes. The reality is that local industry had always paid taxes and expected municipal services in return, including waste disposal. At the Environmental Appeal Board hearing held in Elmira in the spring of 1991, Ken Reger also testified that steel barrels were removed from the ground during excavation for the STP. In places these barrels were stacked on top of each other eight to nine barrels deep.13 These barrels and their chemical contents had been initially disposed into the M2 landfill, property that was subsequently purchased and used by Uniroyal .

When M2 was closed in 1962 a new municipal/industrial landfill space was built on property leased from Cecil Bolender. The Bolender Landfill was in operation from 1962 until approximately 1970. It too accepted certain Uniroyal wastes. In 1990 with the municipal wells closed, the Bolender landfill was seriously considered as a possible source of NDMA contaminating the municipal aquifers. The First Street Landfill site operated from approximately 1968 until 1972 which was a very short lived landfill. These three landfills were positioned particularly close to the Creek, guaranteeing a ready, ongoing and likely never ending source of contamination to groundwater and in turn to the Creek. To this day, contaminants in the Creek may very well be refreshed from any or all of these landfills. How Woolwich Township to this day have not been ordered to clean them up by at least installing leachate controls or doing hydraulic pumping is beyond me.

In this same year of 1965, groundwater exploration continued in and around Elmira. International Water Supply (IWS) drilled test wells and test holes both north and south of the North Wellfield in the hunt for additional water supplies. The Ontario Water Resources Commission (OWRC) was looking for alternate water supplies on behalf of the Elmira Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Lastly in the 1970s the Region of Waterloo was also looking for additional groundwater sources. What exactly were they not telling the citizens of Elmira back then?

The Natural Environment

In 1966 the former Ontario Water Resources Commission (OWRC) which is now the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP)) did a biological survey of the Grand River watershed. The title of the report is “Biological Survey Of The Grand River And Its Tributaries 1966.” Samples were taken of bottom fauna, fish, and water throughout the entire watershed. The focus of my story is on one creek, namely the Canagagigue in the top half of the Grand River, as well as one of the three reaches of the Grand River, namely the Upper Grand River. I have looked at data from sample points in other creeks feeding into the Grand River as well as data downstream and upstream on rivers before they enter the Grand River. The results are shocking and stunning. I have in the past referred to the Creek as devoid of life. Not just devoid of fish but devoid of all life including the benthic community that lives in the sediments on the bottom of creeks and rivers. The loss of diversity and number of species is indeed shocking. There are, however, small numbers of extremely hardy and pollution tolerant members of the sediment burrowing community in parts of the Creek on the Uniroyal site. There are other parts of the Creek on the site, nearest to specific ponds and lagoons, that have absolutely zero of these tiny organisms because they are not capable of surviving the ongoing toxic chemical releases to the creek.

There was a complete absence of fish between the upstream half of the Uniroyal property and the incoming tributary stream near West Montrose just before Jigs Hollow Road and the Grand River. “At station Ca8, 100 feet downstream from station Ca7, the bottom fauna was altered more drastically towards fewer individuals and reduced number of taxa. Only 4 individuals and 2 taxa of macroinvertebrates were obtained. A community of this nature in Southern Ontario is found only in the presence of considerable toxic pollution. Approximately 100 feet of earth separates the creek from retention lagoons operated by Uniroyal 1966 Limited. Seepage from these ponds probably occurs, thereby accounting for the unbalanced nature of the macroinvertebrate community at station Ca8. Similar conditions were evident at station Ca9, approximately 100 yards downstream from the Elmira Water Pollution Control Plant, and again at stations Ca10 and Ca11. At the latter station, approximately 2 miles downstream from Elmira, toxic conditions limited the bottom fauna to midge larvae (Chironomidae). Environmental conditions were improved considerably at the mouth of Canagagigue Creek (station Ca13) following dilution from the tributary stream at West Montrose.”14 Furthermore this 1966 report advises that “At station Ca6 (Bolender Park), fewer fish than would be expected were obtained and the only species represented was the common shiner, (Notropis cornutus). All were excluded from the creek at and between stations Ca7 and Ca11. Some improvement in water quality was evident at station Ca13 where the white sucker (Catostomus commersoni) and the bluntnosed minnow (Pimphales notatus) were taken. Limited dilution occurs upstream from this station which would account for this improvement. However, a normal fish community was not present at that location and moreover, seven species of fish disappeared from the Grand River at station G11, below the point of entry of Canagagigue Creek into the Grand.” 15
“Within the Grand River itself downstream of the mouth of the ”Gig” impairment of water quality was evident from the fish obtained at stations G8 and G11. At station G11 seven species of fish disappeared as a result of toxic wastes from Canagagigue Creek. …The influence of impaired water from Canagagigue Creek was detected chemically at station G11 on the Grand River. At that location the level of BOD, nutrients and solids increased.”16

By 1968 the OWRC publicly stated that Uniroyal Chemical were an outstanding pollution problem. More test wells were dug in Elmira in 1968 as the search for groundwater continued. At the time there were no shortages or other symptoms of wells running dry in the North Wellfield.

Early Remediation

In 1970 Uniroyal, possibly in consultation with the OWRC, decided to clay line its on-site west side lagoons. These lagoons were the production operating ponds (RPW 5-8) still used to pretreat wastes on their way to the Elmira STP. The plan was to slow the quantity of chemical liquid wastes percolating through the bottom of the ponds into the underlying aquifers. In hindsight the discharging of both solvents and chlorinated compounds known as Dense Non Aqueous Phase Liquids (DNAPLS) continued unabated into the underlying soils, aquitards, and aquifers. In this same year, the first southern well, E7 became operational. It had previously been a test well for the ongoing groundwater exploration in Elmira.

By 1976 Uniroyal ’s pre-treatment plant consisted of activated carbon treatment of its liquid wastes; later they went to the Elmira STP . NDMA was first found in Uniroyal’s wastewater in 1977. That same year, the second well was commissioned in the South Wellfield (E9). Oddly, neither the OWRC, the Elmira PUC nor Uniroyal apparently thought to test the water in the North or South Wellfields for NDMA. In my opinion, the NDMA was already there by 1977 and testing likely would have prevented the next twelve years of human exposures to the carcinogenic chemical. In 1979 Uniroyal tested the air for NDMA around their plant. The monitoring results exceeded the American air standards although Ken Bradley, formerly of Uniroyal, and currently head of the Ontario Waste Management Commission, advised the EAB that his supervisor had told him that it would take ten to twenty years of breathing that air before harm would accrue. Ken informed him that he figured that NDMA had been in the air around Uniroyal for about thirty years. 17

There was cleanup going on between 1984 and 1987. The west side ponds were cleaned of their sludges and liquids. These and other on-site pits and ponds were put into RPE 4 & 5 on the east side of the site. These two east side pits were designated as “consolidation” pits and were then covered with plastic in order to prevent rain from infiltrating them. While I don’t know if rain was prevented from going in I can tell you that pesticide odours and more were not prevented from leaving the pits. In 1991 I took a little independent field trip to the site which earned me my very first, but not last, trespassing citation.

Approximately in 1985 the east side Stroh Drain was built. This drain was on the Stroh property however parallel to the Uniroyal/Chemtura property line and only 20 metres away from it. When or if the “Interceptor Trench” was built on the Chemtura property to divert contaminated groundwater from Uniroyal is open to speculation. My guess is that it was built also shortly before the Elmira drinking wells were shut down by the MOE in November 1989. Currently Chemtura/Laxness likely still dispute that this Interceptor Trench exists. Their credibility has been tested and found wanting over the last thirty years here in Elmira. Indeed if it is what I think it is, the ramifications in regards to environmental laws in Ontario could be severe. It is my belief that this Interceptor Trench was the primary reason why Uniroyal and the MOE settled for only hydraulic containment of Uniroyal’s south-west corner. They felt that the east side groundwater was being effectively diverted from discharging into the Creek on Uniroyal’s property courtesy of the Interceptor Trench and its discharge into the Stroh Drain. The Stroh Drain discharges several hundred metres further downstream back into the creek, well off the Uniroyal property.

Awakenings

A rude awakening occurred in 1979 with notice of the abuses of the chemical industry in North America in general and specifically in New York State as developers built a subdivision on top of the long covered Love Canal. The Canal’s purpose was to by-pass Niagara Falls but it never did get finished. It ended up being used to bury toxic wastes produced by Hooker Electrochemical Company (Hooker). Hooker was quite the success story as they produced trichlorophenol (TCP) among other chemical products. One of their customers was none other than Uniroyal Chemical Ltd. in Elmira. TCP was one of the raw materials used in 2, 4, 5-T herbicide, which had unfortunately an impurity known as 2,3,7,8 TCDD or dioxin. These dioxins caused severe health problems among children in the residential subdivision at Love Canal. Lois Gibbs, a mother of two, found it necessary to mobilize the residents to demand that they be protected and compensated for their property as well as their health losses.

The plot was thickening in Elmira. There were rumours and concerns of course in the community that they were on borrowed time regarding the safety of Elmira’s drinking wells. Publicly, however, whenever they asked, the population of Elmira was reassured that authorities knew exactly what they were doing. By 1981 Uniroyal’s groundwater consultants, Morrison Beatty Ltd., had concluded that the municipal aquifer underneath the Uniroyal site was the exact same aquifer underneath most of Elmira and the same aquifer that both the North and South Wellfields were situated in. That was very bad news as it indicated a direct hydraulic connection from the Uniroyal site to both wellfields. The same year three pumping wells were drilled on the Uniroyal site namely PW1, PW2 and PW3. Their purpose was to reduce natural groundwater migration and hence act as containment wells to prevent Uniroyal’s contaminated groundwater from leaving the site. Way too little, way too late. However these wells were not put to use during the 1980s. There were two legitimate concerns. First, no treatment for the contaminated groundwater was planned prior to its discharge into the Creek. Wow! Second the Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) was established in 1982 as a committee of Woolwich Township Council. The members believed that these deep pumping wells in the municipal aquifer would likely draw even higher contaminated groundwater from the upper aquifer, deeper into the municipal aquifer faster than it was already migrating downwards.

Jeff Merriman, Environmental Engineer, with Chemtura Canada had advised Michael Heitmann and Bonita Wagler in their 2017 documentary that Uniroyal knew the town wells were threatened in the late 1970s or early 1980s. This awareness makes sense otherwise Uniroyal would never have drilled the on-site containment wells PW1, PW2 and PW3 in 1981. If and when Uniroyal’s toxic legacy made it to either wellfield the jig was up as far as Uniroyal’s public claims that nothing had left its site. The MOE then and now still pretend that contamination in the natural environment is acceptable as long as it hasn’t travelled to another property. This nonsensical position has delayed far too many remediation strategies waiting for the inevitable escape of toxic chemicals to happen.

In 1982 the MOE in conjunction with the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) published a study, titled “Grand River Basin Management Study.” The study focuses on flood control, water quantity, and water quality. The Canagagigue was considered a major issue as its waters had been polluting the Grand River since the late 1940s. The research for this report was done between 1977 and 1981 and makes clear that all parties involved such as the GRCA, MOE, and Uniroyal were fully aware of the threat that existed to the Elmira municipal drinking water supplies at that time, approximately a decade prior to the actual shutdown of the municipal wellfields.

Also clearly enunciated in the report is the further damage that had been done to the Grand River in Woolwich Township by an old, abandoned landfill containing oils and petroleum sludges in it between Breslube Enterprises Limited in Breslau and the Grand River. This site had been the cause of the Region of Waterloo shutting down two Infiltration Wells along the Grand River, namely K70 and K71. To this day outgoing Regional Chair Ken Seiling and his Engineering Department still refuse to acknowledge the toxic contamination from this landfill and its effects upon either the wells or the river. This report also points the finger at Borg Textiles Canada Inc. in Elmira as sending toxic loads to the Elmira STP which damaged the bacteria needed for the biological treatment of sewage wastes.18

In May of 1982, the Ontario MOE sent a letter to Jack Pym, Manufacturing Manager, of Uniroyal advising him that its site had a very serious pollution problem.19 Dioxins were found for the first time in 1984 at 600 parts per trillion on the Uniroyal site in the location of the former municipal landfill known as M2. 20 Surface soil standards for Dioxins vary with the use of the land such as parks, agricultural, or industrial purposes. Regardless the standards are all well below 100 parts per trillion. David Ash, Uniroyal’s general manager, advised the K-W Record of this contamination in their January 20, 1993 edition. In 1984, five years prior to the shutdown of the public drinking wells, Uniroyal and the MOE likely figured that this Dioxin bad news was best kept between them. This was especially so as Dioxins at Love Canal had people concerned. Essentially the discovery of Dioxins in M2 reinforced that there were industrial wastes in Elmira’s landfill sites including the Bolender Landfill just across Church Street and from the company.

Back to the 1984 Control Order served on Jack Pym, the Manager of Manufacturing at Uniroyal Chemical Ltd. The 1984 Control Order not only ordered a professional hydrogeological report, it required additional test well monitoring and leachate control from the west side operating ponds. This control order also required remediation of the east side pits and control of discharges from magnetic anomalies, which would indicate buried drums. The December 1, 1983 Morrison Beatty report is referenced in this control order. Two of these three requirements were attended to vigorously by Uniroyal. They removed two thousand drums filled with toxic wastes from Burial Area East-1 (BAE-1) on the east side and sent them off-site. Uniroyal’s sub-contractors removed sludges from the west side operating ponds and sent them across the Creek to the east side “Consolidation” pits RPE 4 & 5. However they did not remediate the east side pits until well after toxic disaster struck the municipal wells in 1989.Uniroyal dug them up out of the earth and stored them in an on-site facility Uniroyal called the Envirodome in December 1993 . Talk about face saving with the name “Envirodome” and putting a positive spin on their negligence. The locals referred to the building as either the “Toxidome” or the “Mausoleum.”

In 1987 the previously mentioned two thousand drums were excavated from BAE-1 and removed from the site. Likely they ended up in Corunna, Ontario (near Sarnia) at a supposedly secure hazardous waste site. Seven thousand gallons of liquid wastes including dioxins were pumped into two blue tanks on the east side for long term storage. In 1988, the groundwater exploration programs around Elmira were still in progress. In hindsight, it seems obvious that all the players knew the score at this time while continuing to deceive the public.

The Province, the Ministry, and the Feds

By 1984 the MOE knew that they were in serious trouble. Love Canal had been in the news for some time and governments, industry, and the regulators were all looking very bad. Something serious had to be done so when the wells went down all parties could claim that they had already been taking significant steps. Their April 13, 1984 Control Order demanded that more monitoring wells be built and monitoring be done on a routine and regular basis. Both groundwater elevation monitoring, which shows the direction of groundwater flow, as well as chemical analyses of the groundwater were to be carried out regularly. In the North Wellfield well E5A was drilled to replace well E5. Interestingly but not at all surprisingly E5A was the well in the North Wellfield farthest away from Uniroyal. Also interestingly in the 1989 Drinking Water Surveillance Program (DWSP), well E5A was the only well tested by the MOE in the North Wellfield. This in my opinion speaks to the unwillingness of the Ontario MOE to admit to the contamination of the drinking water wells one second sooner than absolutely necessary. All parties were hoping to wriggle out of the mess their negligence had caused, with their skins and reputations intact.

Two other ironic twists of fate need to be mentioned. The provincial officer who legally served Jack Pym with the April 13, 1984 Control Order was none other than Glenn P. McDonald of the MOE. The provincial officer who provided the report from which the Control Order was written was Wayne Jackman of the MOE Mr. Jackman went on to be the main MOE’s liaison and hydrogeologist in regards to the future control order served on Varnicolor Chemical Ltd. and would testify later at the legal prosecution of its owner, Severin Argenton. After the smoke cleared, Mr. Jackman also worked on behalf of the MOE in negotiations with Phillips Environmental Inc. (Phillips) a company that wanted to buy the Varnicolor site. Private deals were made, not in the public interest, and resulted in the control order for deep examination of the soils for solvent contamination; mysteriously disappearing from the new control order. This saved Phillips substantial monies by only having to do a very shallow cleanup. Mr. Jackman was then hired away from the MOE by Phillips.

Glenn P. McDonald’s future was a little less bright. He was caught tipping off Severin Argenton of Varnicolor about an impending raid on May 17, 1990 by the MOE. I assisted with his getting caught due to an informant I had, working inside Varnicolor, after I’d been fired by Mr. Argenton. Mr. McDonald was criminally charged with Breach of Trust although charges were mysteriously reduced with zero prior warning to the citizens involved in Mr. McDonald apprehension. Nevertheless, he was convicted of obstructing an MOE officer and was fired from the Ontario Ministry of Environment.

Dames & Moore was removed by David Ash of Uniroyal in 1992 and Conestoga Rovers (CRA) took over as Uniroyal’s full time consultants. I can take major credit for getting Dames & Moore removed and perhaps unfortunately some discredit for bringing on CRA. This will be elaborated on in Chapter Three. Hindsight being 20/20 vision, I expect that Uniroyal wanted the benefit of a highly successful consulting firm whose engineers had recently made their bones with their hydraulic containment of the Love Canal. Decades later, CRA looked less successful and intelligent as ongoing problems plagued Love Canal’s remaining residents still. It’s my experience that history can be funny that way. In 2017 and 2018 CRA’s engineers aren’t looking so hot in Elmira either. Dr. Richard Jackson, past chair of the Technical Advisory Group, has quite deflated their professional efforts, or lack thereof, in Elmira.

By 1989, consulting company, CH2MHILL had completed Phase 1 of a research and development program to investigate permanent on-site contaminated groundwater solutions occurring at toxic waste sites in Canada. The partners funding this study included the federal Department of Supply & Services, Ontario MOE and Environment Canada. Unsurprisingly, especially in hindsight, the demonstration project was to be at Uniroyal Chemical Ltd. in Elmira, Ontario. This was the last known public input the Federal Government of Canada made regarding the Uniroyal property. Representatives have kept their distance since 1989 despite being formally requested to assist by Dr. Henry Regier. Dr. Regier a renowned academic and leader in international research institutes and agencies for ecosystems and water quality as well as a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his life-long work; sent a letter of appeal to the Auditor General of Canada in 2004 requesting assistance regarding cleanup of the site.

The Shoe Finally Drops

In November 1989 the MOE advised the Region of Waterloo that they had sampled the water two months earlier from well E7 in the South Wellfield and found a strange sounding chemical known as NDMA. They also advised that they had found cyclohexylamine. The MOE did not have a drinking water standard for NDMA but other jurisdictions did and this well exceeded those standards. NDMA was considered to be carcinogenic. At the time I lived in Kitchener but was working in Elmira and drinking the tap water during the day. There appeared to be confusion on the part of all our government authorities. They all seemed to be totally taken by surprise by the discovery. They immediately speculated that grease used for the pumps at the wells may have contaminated the water with NDMA. At a public meeting, citizen Richard Clausi among others debunked this suggestion as nonsense. Was this attempt to identify a source nothing more than a Hail Mary or a last ditch attempt to deflect responsibility for government shortcomings? The whole basis of the NDMA discovery allegedly being the sole cause of the shutdown of the Elmira wellfields always seemed to me to be very self-serving for our local politicians and authorities. NDMA moves more quickly than many other chemicals in the groundwater. Other chemicals are “retarded” or slowed by bonding with soil particles in the subsurface whereas NDMA readily dissolved and flowed with the groundwater and at the same speed.

When residents began to recall years of frequently bad tasting tap water their thoughts went to the stinkiest company in town and that would be Uniroyal Chemical. Yes Elmira had had Rothsay Concentrates, a rendering company, stink up the town much earlier on with dead animal carcasses but Uniroyal had the market for chemical stenches pretty much cornered. Wally Ruck, a very senior Uniroyal Chemical spokesperson, claimed that “NDMA was not in their vocabulary.” He never did live down that falsehood. Recall that Uniroyal had discovered NDMA in their wastewater going to the Elmira STP back in 1977 and then again in their air emissions in 1979.

Of course the MOE had to wade in and reassure everybody that they were all over the problem. Jim Bradley, the Minister of the Environment at the time, sent a crack 5 man team to Elmira to discover who and where the source of the NDMA was. Many locals as well as some in the MOE were pretty sure that Uniroyal was the source. Uniroyal denied it and even went so far as to offer to donate one million Canadian dollars towards a formal study of all potential sources in Elmira. Uniroyal seemed unusually confident that they were not the only source of groundwater contamination in Elmira. While other sources have indeed been found since for contributing other chemical contamination in the municipal aquifers, to date no one has been put on the hook other than Uniroyal for the NDMA contamination. My bets are still on Varnicolor Chemical Ltd. and or Sanyo Canadian Machine Works although evidence for the latter is extremely thin.

While working in Elmira in 1989 I had virtually zero knowledge of groundwater, aquifers, pollution standards for chemicals in groundwater, etc. What I did know was that I was currently working for a pig of an individual, environment wise. Before the 1989 water crisis broke in town I had been documenting for nearly a year various spills, leaks, and other negligent handling of solvents. I was appalled by what I saw happening at Varnicolor in Elmira. It was the most backward, amateur operation imaginable. Workers would even attempt to stop the spread of spilled liquid solvents on the bare ground using snow when we ran out of sawdust. What a farce. I had also seen the relationship between the MOE and Varnicolor Chemical. It was beyond pathetic. The MOE would phone ahead of time and ask the owner, Severin Argenton, when it would be convenient for them to inspect on such and such a day. Often, it was not convenient at a suggested date and a future one was set. Workers would then use the extra time to clean up the yard, at least superficially. Never were the employees asked any questions and similar to Jim Bradley’s five man team usually we would never see the MOE representatives. They spent the bulk of their time in the office where it wasn’t quite so dirty and stinky, drinking coffee, and chatting with management.

Hindsight is often 20/20. I only wish I knew the history of both Uniroyal and Elmira back at the start of my thirty year odyssey into public consultation and activism. I sincerely wish that all the citizens involved in those early days knew what had transpired prior to their foray into the realm of polluters, politicians and the environment. This is partly the purpose of this book. The next generation need a manual, a how to, a how not to, an eye opening into the human weaknesses not only of politicians, corporate managers, government bureaucrats but also of their fellow citizens.



ENDNOTES for Chapter One

1 Susan C. Rupert, Communication of Citizen Environmental Concerns: Relations Between APT
Environment And Local News Media, Waterloo, 1994, p.114.

2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Roddy Turpin, “Former Uniroyal employee highlights effects of Canagagigue creek pollution”,
Elmira Independent, May 6, 1991, p.1.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid. p.3.
11 Ibid. p.3.
12 Ibid. p.3.
13 Ibid. p.3.
14 M.J. German, Biological Survey of the Grand River And Its Tributaries 1966, December 1967, p.8.
15 Ibid. p.9.
16 Ibid. p.17.
17 Bob Burtt, No Guardians At The Gate, 2014, p.19.
18 GRCA, Grand River Basin Water Management Study, 1982, p.E5.
19 Editorial, Elmira Independent, “Current situation is extremely serious”, February 19, 1991, p.4.
20 Bob Burtt, “Dioxins blamed on old dump”, Kitchener-Waterloo Record, January 20, 1993, p. 4

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About Me

Alan Marshall I’ve lived in Waterloo Region for 59 of my 69 years. 1949-1953 and 1983-1988 were spent in Toronto. I have an extensive 30 year plus history of researching and examining contaminated sites throughout Waterloo Region. I co-founded the Elmira Environmental Hazards Team in 1994. The late and very lamented Esther Thur joined us shortly afterwards.

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3 Responses to ELMIRA WATER WOES: THE TRIUMPH OF CORRUPTION, DECEIT, AND CITIZEN BETRAYAL

  1. agmarshall@rogers.com'
    Alan Marshall November 11, 2019 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you Debbie. I have also posted this morning on my Elmira Advocate website my praises for your posting my book here. I hope that the conclusion most readers come to after reading the first chapter which you have kindly included in its entirety is that the destruction of the Elmira Aquifers by Uniroyal Chemical (& others) was not a surprise to our authorities. They all saw it coming for years to decades.

  2. ltvann@rogers.com'
    Tom Vann November 11, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    How many lives has Alan saved? How much cancer has he prevented? A true hero that fought for everyone. I am damn proud to know you Al. The scum in positions that you fought should be ashamed of themselves. Your work is historic and worthy of praise. Bless you for your efforts sir.

  3. agmarshall@rogers.com'
    Alan Marshall November 12, 2019 at 7:08 am

    Tommy: Thank you and I am proud to know you as well. As a “whistleblower” the one thing I have learned is that 99 times out of a hundred our authorities already know that which has just come to the attention of a member of the public. This is especially so in regards to environmental issues. It was thus with Uniroyal Chemical and Varnicolor Chemical in Elmira for decades. Both groundwater studies as well as an article in the Globe & Mail in the early 1980s had identified Varnicolor years before I outed them. I suspect that there had been complaints or even tips about Northstar Aerospace as well as their neighbour (Rozell/G.E.) across Bishop St. long before 2005. Of course the Ministry of Environment aren’t ever going to volunteer this information after the health crisis and worse those companies caused.

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