The duty to consult and children’s environmental health

What does the aggregate industry’s Duty To Consult have to do with children’s environmental health? In terms of sand and gravel deposits within the Haldimand Tract, the Grand River-Lake Erie Source Water Protection Zone and risk factors for childhood diseases like Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, I can easily think of five things.

But for readers who are unfamiliar, the Haldimand Treaty of October 25, 1784 refers to a tract of land six miles (10 kilometers) deep on each side of the Ouse – or Grand River – from its mouth on Lake Erie to its source North of Dundalk. It was committed to the Six Nations community in appreciation of their allegiance to the Crown and as compensation for loss of settlements following the American War of Independence from Britain.

In the simplest terms, this means any proposed changes to land, surface water or groundwater use in this approximately 950,000 acre area must be formally agreed upon by the traditional caretakers of the territory. This is not only as an ecological safety measure but as a matter of international, treaty and constitutional law, affirmed in Section 35(1) of the 1982 Constitution Act.

Also recall that if Laura Secord (famous daughter of United Empire Loyalist, Thomas Ingersoll) hadn’t been rescued by Kanien’keha:ka, who honoured their treaty obligations, Canada would not exist at all. Nor would all the iconic, concrete landmarks like Toronto’s CN Tower.

Ironically, most of the aggregate used to build the concrete infrastructure to support the modern colonial economy comes from deposits found along major rivers like the Grand. These sand and gravel deposits actually provide essential ecological services that are not accounted for in the $1.25 per tonne valuation of this “commodity.”

Health and Long-Term Care are the responsibility of the Province, and costs are sky-scraping. Perhaps the Natural Resources branch should consult and accommodate First Nations in at least the following areas before issuing any permits in an attempt to save the healthcare system?

1) Flood Insurance – Under ideal surface conditions (not concrete), most rainfall from severe weather events can percolate into the watershed’s sand and gravel deposits. It is released slowly to streams, rivers and lakes through a maze of underground channels that also recharges groundwater supplies. Drier basements means less mold and fewer respiratory problems. Drilling deeper for well water exposes young children and elders to kidney-clogging minerals.

2) Nature’s Refrigerator – Rainwater that has taken the long pathway underground before discharging into a tributary stream like Whiteman’s Creek is several degrees colder than water in the main channel of the Grand River. This results in a more stable regional climate, less pathogenic bacteria growth, happier and healthier aquatic species and a secure supply of fresh and locally-sourced traditional foods.

3) Water Treatment Wonderland – Nothing does a better job of making water both clean and safe than an intact riverbank biome. The sand layers filter out fecal bacteria. The limestone and dolostone gravel beds adjust pH from acid rain while releasing minerals needed for plant growth. Heavy metals, agri-chemicals and unpleasant odours are bound by thin clay beds distributed between the sand and gravel. Assuming they haven’t been poisoned, plant roots and beneficial microbes break down toxic chemicals into useful compounds.

4) Bank Robber Resistance – Open pits and quarries close to stream and river channels can’t filter out fine sediments that destroy fish spawning and turtle nesting grounds. And they won’t stop river banks from undercutting homes and dumping sediments from erosion into source water, either. Polyaluminum chloride is a common neurotoxic water treatment additive (especially when combined with fluoride) that plant operators will have to use less of if the intake water is clear to start with.

5) Alternative to Carbon Addiction – Prairie grasses, trees and shrubs growing along rivers suck greenhouse gases like CO2 out of the atmosphere. Areas with well-drained, nutrient-rich soil close to water are ideal places for permaculture, community gardens and “green belts” that provide ecologically-correct foods for the local community and habitat for insect-gobbling birds like swallows. These options reduce the overall need for hydrocarbons in the form of herbicides, insecticides and transportation emissions that end up in water, air, soil, food and eventually our children.

So, viewed instead as Mother Earth’s circulatory system, kidneys and liver, it becomes evident that aggregate deposits left in the ground might actually be the embodiment of the Mastercard slogan: priceless.

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