Local resident Debbie Gordon is seeking a judicial review in the matter of the abandoned Thane Smelter in the town of Georgina, Ontario. Laura Bowman and Ian Miron, lawyers working for Ecojustice, are representing Gordon and filed the case on her behalf late last week.
The Thane smelter operation was abandoned in 1997, leaving a large unauthorized pile of dross and slag containing numerous harmful contaminants on the site. For approximately 14 years the owners failed to take action to remove the waste and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change has failed to carry out a removal or enforce orders requiring that the owners do so.
“It’s now been over a decade that we’ve been asking for action to get this site cleaned up,” said Georgina resident Debbie Gordon, who represents local environmental group Save the Maskinonge. “I felt compelled to take this to Court to ensure the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change lives up to their responsibilities and that we protect the Maskinonge river and wetland complex.” The Maskinonge River flows to Lake Simcoe, the drinking water source for the community of Keswick.
The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change issued a clean-up order for the smelter site in 2000, but the owner failed to remove the waste from the site. Gordon requested a Ministry investigation in 2002 and later participated in a public liaison committee for over three years looking for options to remove the waste in cooperation with the Ministry. Then, in 2014, without consulting the Town of Georgina or local residents, the Ministry revoked the clean-up order.
“This case is about ensuring that the government of Ontario is serious about remediating pollution from abandoned sites and holds polluters accountable in accordance with its legal mandate,” said Laura Bowman, staff lawyer with Ecojustice. “Increasingly we see the Ministry walking away from its obligations to provide an environmentally responsible solution for protecting the environment from abandoned contaminated sites, even ones that pose environmental risks.”
With the Court filings, Gordon is seeking a judicial review of the Ministry’s July 2014 decision to revoke the cleanup order naming the polluters of the Thane site on the grounds that the Ministry is not aware of any offsite adverse effects. Gordon is asking the court to recognize that the evidence shows otherwise, and to declare the cleanup order is in force.
“I asked for legal help from Ecojustice because I believe it is important that the public be kept informed about how the Ministry makes these decisions,” said Gordon. “It isn’t fair when the Ministry says it is going to follow a transparent process for clean-up and then decides behind closed doors that the environmental rights of Georgina residents are not a priority.”