Residents fight against proposed Middle Stewiacke asbestos disposal site

A proposed asbestos disposal site for Middle Stewiacke, N.S., could be under construction in just a few weeks if the waste company behind the project gets its way.

In mid-May, Colchester Containers Ltd. registered an asbestos waste disposal cell project for environmental assessment with the Nova Scotia government.

“We were extremely surprised, it just appeared without any notice to any of us,” said Ellen Durkee, a lifelong resident of the Middle Stewiacke area. “We’re hoping we can slow it down a little bit so we can get more information.”

Durkee said people in the area have concerns for their health, and wonder what would happen if asbestos were to end up in a local waterway.

Once used as insulation and in various construction materials, asbestos is a toxic substance that can cause cancer and other diseases when its fibres are inhaled.

Colchester Containers currently operates a construction and demolition disposal site in Middle Stewiacke and wants to add a new cell for asbestos.

Residents have until June 14 to submit public comments. Nova Scotia Environment Minister Gordon Wilson must decide by July 5 whether the project receives a conditional approval.

Colchester Containers wants to build an asbestos disposal site in Middle Stewiacke. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Those timelines are too quick for people like Durkee.

“The process for the community to get informed and at least find out the basic information is impossible,” said Durkee. “The government is no help, the minister’s office has refused to meet with us.”

Durkee and other residents have formed a committee to look at ways they can stop the asbestos from coming into their community.

They aren’t impressed with some mistakes in the technical report submitted by an environmental engineering consultant hired by Colchester Containers as part of the environmental assessment process.

“For the first five pages of it, it kept referencing Middle Musquodoboit as the location and we are in Middle Stewiacke,” said area resident Hazel Caldwell. “We don’t have a whole lot of confidence in that environmental assessment as we read it.”

A public meeting was held at the Middle Stewiacke United Church on May 24. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Residents like Caldwell and Durkee helped organize a public meeting at a local church on May 24 and cannot figure out why their community is being chosen.

The Municipality of the County of Colchester already has a site in Kemptown where staff are trained to properly handle asbestos. But it is currently not listed among the seven asbestos disposal sites on the Nova Scotia Environment Department website. A government spokesperson said it will be added when the website is updated.

Christine Blair, the mayor of the Municipality of the County of Colchester, said the municipality doesn’t see the need for another asbestos site in the region.

This section of land has already been clear cut on the Colchester Containers construction waste site. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The mayor hopes to buy some time and delay the environment minister from granting a conditional approval, and she said she has heard the province is looking at reviewing regulations around construction and demolition waste sites.

“We are asking that permit to be held in abeyance until new C&D regulations come in,” said Blair. “Why in the world would you issue a permit for a second and new site for asbestos disposal in our county?”

Colchester Containers declined an interview request.

It’s believed the company would begin construction of the cell immediately if given ministerial approval. A large section of land at its current waste site has already been clear cut.

“The community has a lot of questions and we’re just not getting any answers,” said Caldwell.

The old hospital in Truro, N.S., contains asbestos and will eventually be demolished. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The old hospital in Truro, about 25 kilometres from Middle Stewiacke, contains asbestos and is scheduled for demolition. But there is still no firm date when it will be knocked down and it’s not clear where the asbestos will go.

Since the Colchester-East Hants Health Centre opened in Truro in 2012, the Nova Scotia Health Authority has spent $982,805 on maintenance at the old hospital, including electricity, water and security.

There is currently no asbestos disposal site in the Halifax region. The Victoria General hospital site is also set to be demolished in the near future as part of the $2 billion redevelopment of the QEII hospital system.

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