Force industry from 40 years ago to clean up contaminated land: Merulla

A Hamilton city councillor wants the province to force an industry here 40 years ago to clean up PCB-contaminated land. But one expert says that probably won't work.

Coca-Cola, Union Gas and Rosart Properties own the land now

A city councillor wants a U.S. company to pay to clean up PCB-contaminated land in the east end. (CBC)

A Hamilton city councillor wants to hold an American company accountable for contaminating land here decades ago and let current owners off the hook for the cleanup.

But an environmental lawyer says that will be difficult.

Sam Merulla, Ward 4 councillor, will push fellow councillors on Wednesday to ask the Ministry of Environment (MOE) to hold the AVX Corporation solely accountable for PCB contamination on a trio of Barton Street properties.

The American company contaminated the land years ago. Merulla estimates it was the 1970s. Now the current owners — Union Gas, Coca-Cola and Rosart Properties — are left trying to comply with an MOE order to clean up the properties.

Merulla said AVX should have to do that. And he wants the MOE to force the company's hand.

"What makes this unique and somewhat aggravating is they no longer have a branch in Canada," Merulla said. "They came here, dumped on us, pulled out their stakes, moved on and don't want to be held accountable."

AVX is also named in that MOE order, but it has ignored years of efforts by the MOE to involve it in the cleanup.

 "We have tried to engage the company but it has not participated in any of the work or studies completed to date," Ministry spokesperson Jennifer Hall previously told CBC Hamilton.

Merulla's motion at the general issues committee Wednesday will ask for the MOE to make AVX clean up the property — and pay for it.

But Ramani Nadarajah, a Toronto-based member of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, said the MOE may be out of luck.

If AVX doesn't operate in Canada anymore, she said, it will be "difficult if not impossible" to make it comply with an order.

"If it's no longer operating in the province, they would have no jurisdiction over it."

The notion of going back to a previous property owner to force a clean up isn't unusual, Nadarajah said. That includes properties that have new owners who knew they were buying contaminated land.

When it comes to environmental orders, the MOE can put them on new owners, old owners or both, she said. There is no statute of limitations.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the current owners. The ministry will issue a final order in two or three weeks, said Glen Rosart of Rosart Properties Inc. in a Jan. 12 letter to Merulla.

"The matter is urgent," he wrote. 

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