BRANTFORD – The never ending battle continues to remediate more than 120 years of serious pollution, including known carcinogens, from the soil where the former Massey-Varity, Cockshutt Plow, Sternson, White Farm Equipment were once located. After several months and a few strategy changes, it is still a long way from completion, but it continues to smell up the air around neighbouring homes.
According to the City of Brantford website, “Beginning January 2016, the Project Team conducted field trials for off-site disposal of the contaminated material at a licensed landfill site as an alternative to the on-site treatment. The objective of these trials was to determine the effectiveness of excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated material while ensuring that odour issues experienced by neighbouring residents were minimized. Given the success of this trial, full scale implementation for off-site disposal of contaminated material is now occurring.”
But despite attempts to get rid of the odour, there are times when the oily chemical smell from the polluted soil makes its way up Murray Street Hill to residents as far away as Colborne street.
Over the years, all studies done on and around the former Mohawk Village lands established by Joseph Brant, show serious pollution caused by years and generations of industry at the Greenwich/Mohawk brownfield site. That may be only the tip of the toxic iceberg.
Several other known toxic sites around the Mohawk/Greenwich location should also be seriously considered for remediation.
The environment was a subject often not spoken of or even considered until relatively recent history. Around the turn of the last century and into the 1960s and 1970s, industrial toxins were simply dumped on the soil, into the canal, held in tailing ponds or simply buried in 45 gallon barrels somewhere, out of sight and out of mind.
One site in particular located at the bend at Locks Road, between the canal and the river should have environmentally conscious residents of the area concerned as well.
The overgrown and wooded area may contain enough toxins to make even the Greenwich/Mohawk site look like a great place to raise your kids.
Brantford’s economic development was spurned by the opening of the Grand River Navigation Company’s canal that linked Brantford by water to the Welland Canal. In 1832 the Grand River Navigation Company began work on a system of canals, but it soon also became a convenient dumping spot for waste from the industries springing up near the canal system, especially after the locks and canal system were closed due to the advent of rail travel.
Not only were these industries and small businesses allowed to dump directly into the canal that eventually empties into the Grand River, it was encouraged. According to a report regarding the Grand River Navigation Company, dated 1875, “Further, to the said Corporation and the inhabitants thereof, shall have the right and privilege at all times of drawing waste water, sewage and refuse into the said Canal basin and that they shall not be prevented from so doing, or otherwise interfered in so doing.”
The document also allows sewers to drain directly into the canal.
Alfred Watts bought a few acres of former GRNC tow path lands in 1875 for the cost of one dollar and built a power dynamo driven by channeling water from the old canal. That brought electricity to the growing town. The availability of cheap hydroelectric power continued to attract large industries as Brantford became a prosperous industrial center. This building remained standing until the early 1920s and the ruins are still seen today at the historic site of Brantford’s first hydroelectric generation plant.
Hydroelectric transformers used to be filled with PCB laden oil before it was proven to be a cancer causing agent The PCB rich oil from repaired transformers was once sold to locals to spread on their gravel drive ways to keep the dust down. The plant was shut down in 1911. Chances are, there may be PCBs or other chemicals still lingering in and around the ruins today.
The Brantford Glue Works was established in 1906 and was closed and torn down in 1985. It was located in the same general area as the Watts Power Station. Throughout that time toxic chemical waste products from the process were expelled into the Grand River directly or piped from the factory into a holding pond very near the bank of the river.
“That pond is still there” according to the late Sanko Kraemer. “The water does not freeze because of the chemicals that are in it.”
Sanko and his mother Ilse had been monitoring that site for 20 years and issued several warnings to the city about this situation whenever there are calls for using this and other polluted lands in the region for future development.
In the 1960s Brantford experimented with a new substance to defoliate unwanted weeds along the river bank. This substance was later referred to as Agent Orange. It became the center of controversy during the Vietnam War when the U.S. military sprayed it to clear heavily forested areas. When soldiers began suffering severe side effects after handling the substance or being within the sprayed area, the Army finally admitted that Agent Orange was a known cancer causing agent. Under public pressure they ceased its use.
Locally, it is said that the Scarfe Paint Co. was contracted to produce the substance. After it was outlawed and they had to dispose of their stock pile of it, some former employees have said they simply put it in barrels and buried it on the same Locks Road site.
Now, more than 50 years later, those barrels are rusting out and some are being pushed to the surface by winter frosts.
Former Brantford Mayor Bob Taylor a few years ago confirmed that the toxicity of this site has been known by the city since he was mayor in the mid 1990’s, yet no one is talking about it and nothing has been done to clean up the area.
“We knew about this and it was on my priority list to deal with,” recalled Taylor. “I think I was told about it by the former CEO of Scarfe who was a friend of mine at the time. But with the changes at city hall after I was turfed, priorities changed and nothing was ever done about it as far as I know.”
In the age of coal, huge unlined coal yards covered a large area of Eagle Place between Greenwich and what is now Icomm Drive. Raw coal tar, and coal dust, both carcinogens, worked deep into the soil and years after the Brantford fire hall and police station were built in the 1950s, this toxicity was rediscovered. It was also a former dump site located right on the bank of the canal. This caused instability under the buildings, but the toxic coal tar was never mentioned as a reason to tear the old Fire Hall down.
At the bottom of the Murray Street hill, at Greenwich, used to stand another electrical station for the electric rail service. PCB leachates are no doubt contaminating the soil and the nearby canal, which emptied into the Grand River.
This substation has been closed for years and the buildings torn down but there are many reports from former employees and members of a car club that used it for a time, of PCB rich oil being stored in underground tanks beneath the floor of one of these buildings. Others talk of dumping the toxic oil directly into the canal. Storm water runoff is also targeted as a source of hi levels of bacteria in Mohawk Lake.
Residues eventually settle to the bottom of the canal and more so, Mohawk Lake itself, which has a deep layer of toxic sediment lining its bottom. In the 1980s there were concerns that dredging the lake would stir up the toxins and send them downstream and into the Grand River not far away.
There were also old rail stations along the path of the canal where grease and oil are known to have polluted the land to some degree.
This only represents a few of many more serious health concerns lurking beneath the soil of the once pristine Mohawk Village.
There is also Massey’s wholesale dumping of sludge and whatever else on the Six Nations’ Glebe lands.
There is a burial pit for old creosote soaked railway ties belonging to Hamilton and Brantford electric railway from 1908 to 1929.
Probable soil contamination at #2 Drummond Street, next to the canal, where a dry-cleaners operated until 1955.
There is a channel into the canal at the end of Eagle Ave., which is said to have been filled in using foundry slag. It is on record that the same slag and foundry dumpings are under Brantford’s old police station on Greenwich, as well as the site of the old Fire Hall across the road.
The entire Freshco grocery plaza located across from the Civic Centre sits on the former site of the Waterous Engine Works, which built heavy equipment for the forest Industry, fire trucks and at times even ammunition for the war effort from 1848 to 1992 when the buildings were removed.
Even after the land was declared by the city to be “very contaminated,” somehow, somebody must have missed that and the Plaza got the go ahead without adequate remediation of the polluted soil.
Generations of ignorance and neglect will take the will of government and pressure of the people to undo legislations that allow and encourage the destruction of the land, habitat, water and air, right here at home.