Protecting drinking water in Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Ltd v. Minister of the Environment and Brown and Lawrence v. Minister of the Environment
Photo by Rebecca Hussman
Program area – Healthy communities Status: Victory
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Ecojustice lawyers represented three residents of Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia, in their fight to protect their drinking water from contamination. In several documented cases, residents of Harrietsfield learned that toxic substances such as boron, arsenic, cadmium, and uranium had been found in local groundwater at levels that exceed what is considered safe in the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines. As a result of this contamination, our clients, Marlene Brown, Melissa King and Jonathan Andrews, were forced to rely on filling up jugs at their local church and at the homes of friends and relatives for their drinking water and to travel to the homes of family and friends to bathe and do laundry.

One numbered company that operated a demolition facility on the site asked the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to be removed from the clean-up order. Marlene, Melissa and Jonathan intervened in this case because they were worried that if the company won the appeal and had its name removed from the order, the remaining companies may not complete the work required to clean up their water.

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court confirmed that polluters must clean up the contaminated site in Harrietsfield, N.S., that has left many residents without access to clean, safe drinking water of an acceptable quality for nearly a decade.

Working with lawyers at East Coast Environmental Law, Ecojustice successfully represented community members Angela Zwicker, Marlene Brown and Melissa King in the two appeal proceedings launched by some of the companies ordered to clean up the contaminated site. (Nova Scotia Ltd v. Minister of the Environment, 2015 NSSC 137 and Nova Scotia Ltd. v. Minister of the Environment v. Brown et al., 2017 NSSC 67.)

Since then, the government committed to providing drinking water treatment systems for some impacted homes in Harrietsfield.

At the most basic level, Ecojustice got involved in this case because every Canadian should have access to clean water. We also believe that companies that pollute must pay to clean up the mess.

Finally, we believe that certain natural resources – in this case, the groundwater that residents rely on for drinking – belong to everyone and that elected officials are responsible for protecting and maintaining these resources.  Upholding the government’s authority to issue and enforce the clean-up order in this case is consistent with the government’s duty to manage these natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.  It is also consistent with protecting the intervenors’ right to water.

What does this victory mean?

Our number one objective was to support our clients in their fight for clean, safe water.  We should all be able to drink the water that flows through the taps in our homes without fear for our health and safety.  While it is an important step that the government will be installing water impact treatment systems for some impacted homes, we have consistently pushed for the site to be remediated as well.

Key developments

Right to a Healthy Environment

December 15,2014

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