Ecojustice Blog – Healthy communities Posted on May 7, 2014 (updated: March 29, 2017)

What you need to know about the law, the environment and your health

Ecojustice lawyer Kaitlyn MitchellKaitlyn MitchellEcojustice Alumni
Earth health
Girl checking the health of Earth image via © Shutterstock

Marlene Brown, Melissa King and Jonathan Andrews can’t drink their tap water.

They can’t use that water to bathe, do laundry or prepare a meal for their families. Melissa and Jonathan were told not prepare baby formula using their water because it contains high levels of lead. The health of effects lead are particularly severe for infants and small children. So why is this happening?

Because their groundwater is contaminated.

Groundwater contamination in Nova Scotia
All three live in Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia, where toxic substances in local groundwater exceed the limits set in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. This problem has affected several domestic wells.

The problem started at a now closed construction and demolition facility, where toxic chemicals such as boron, cadmium, uranium and arsenic have contaminated local groundwater.

For more than 10 years, residents of Harrietsfield have asked their government, as well as company representatives, for help. But the level of contaminants has not shrunk. In many cases, these levels have increased. The province ordered companies who have either owned and operated on the site to clean and monitor the groundwater. Still, Marlene, Melissa and Jonathan must fill water jugs at their local church and visit friends and family to do laundry or bathe.

Why is Ecojustice involved?
One of those companies is asking the court to remove its name from the government’s order. If the company’s appeal is successful, it would no longer be responsible for cleaning up or monitoring the contamination.

If the company succeeds, Marlene, Melissa and Jonathan fear that others will abandon the cleanup and monitoring work. And that would jeopardize their health and the environment.

But your support is helping.

Using the law to make a difference
With help from Dalhousie Legal Aid, staff lawyer Will Amos and I are representing Marlene, Melissa and Jonathan. Together, we’re supporting our clients as they use the law to protect their health and uphold the cleanup order. Which brings me to an important point. The connection between our health and the environment.

Protecting your right to a healthy life
I believe that you and every Canadian have a right to enjoy life. You can’t enjoy your life without air, land, and water that’s free from contamination. The things we touch and ingest affect our health. That’s common sense and it’s proven by science.

Governments have duty to protect you from pollution. But sometimes governments fail to uphold your rights. Sometimes governments allow polluters to avoid cleanup costs or shift the cost to you. This is wrong. Allowing toxic chemicals and pollutants to contaminate our environment, and enter our bodies, endangers your health and the health of our communities.

A better vision for your health
At Ecojustice, we want to reduce your exposure to pollutants and toxic substances and protect your right to clean water. Ridding these toxic substances from our homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods will improve your health. And we believe the law is the most powerful way to accomplish this goal.

A legal victory for people and health
In 2013, you protected an Ontario community’s groundwater. You supported Ecojustice staff lawyers as we represented Wellington Water Watchers and the Council of Canadians in Wellington County at the Environmental Review Tribunal (read about the case). Together, you, our lawyers and our clients forced Nestlé Canada Inc. to accept mandatory drought reductions.

Here’s what Mike Nagy, chair of the Wellington Water Watchers, said about your support:

“This win highlights the need for organizations such as Ecojustice and demonstrates how the law plays a critical role in environmental protection. We cannot thank you enough for supporting Ecojustice, which in turn enables us to ensure that the government adheres to its mandate.”

A sneak peak at the solution
Here’s the thing. There’s a way to solve some of these issues. I want our governments to recognize the right to a healthy environment. Ultimately, the federal government must enshrine this right in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Doing so will make it clear that all Canadians understand that a healthy environment keeps us healthy. It will allow us to improve the quality of your air, water, land and food.

Tune in for the next several months as we profile how we’re using the law to protect you and your health. Plus, we’ll share updates about Marlene, Melissa and Jonathan and their fight to protect their environment and their health.

By Kaitlyn Mitchell, staff lawyer

Girl checking the health of Earth image via © Shutterstock

Build the case for a better earth

Thanks to the support of people like you, Ecojustice goes to court to protect what we value most — the air, land and water that sustains all life. Make your gift today and support bold litigation for a brighter environmental future.

Join our newsletter

Get updates on the most pressing environmental issues delivered straight to your inbox.

Join our online community

Follow us on social media