Asbestos heaped in town dump angers residents

People in a northern Manitoba town are angry after learning asbestos and contaminated soil are being disposed of in the community's dump.

Material came from a demolished radar station in northern Ontario

The bags are tagged with a warning that states the material is a 'Cancer and Lung Disease Hazard.' (Diana Rosy Roy Korkola)

People in a northern Manitoba town are angry after learning asbestos and contaminated soil are being disposed of in the community's dump.

The material, hauled in from a demolished air force radar station in northern Ontario, was dropped in the Gillam dump on Friday evening.

Julie Crawford, who lives a few kilometres from the dump site, said the whole town is talking about it and many people are extremely upset.

Industrial-sized waste bags containing asbestos and contaminated soil have been dropped off at the Gillam dump. (Diana Rosy Roy Korkola)

"You go and dump a bunch of big bags marked 'Caution, Danger, Cancer-causing Lung Disease Agents,' and then don't expect people to freak out? They give us no pre-warning, they never gave us the choice as to letting this happen," Crawford told CBC News.

"Why do we all of a sudden become Chernobyl of the north, you know — future home of the two-headed babies. Why would they go and dump it on us and not let us know ahead of time? There is no accountability."

Approved by city

Gillam Mayor Jim Goymer said the town was contacted by a Montreal environmental company, asking permission to dispose and bury 540 tonnes of non-hazardous contaminated soil and 410 tonnes of asbestos.

Some bags are torn and have grey powder spilling out. (Diana Rosy Roy Korkola)

The massive industrial waste removal bags are tagged with a "Danger" notice that states the material is a "Cancer and Lung Disease Hazard."

However, Goymer insists the materials don't pose a public threat, adding Manitoba Conservation approved the dumping.

"We had to make sure that it was going to come in double bags. Nothing should be getting out of it. As long as everything arrives in its condition and we bury it right away, there should be no problems whatsoever," he said.

Some bags, in photos taken by residents, are torn and have grey powder spilling out.

Crawford said the municipality should have allowed residents to express their views over the dumping — or at least warn them it was going to happen.

Disposed materials

According to the Town of Gillam, the asbestos and other waste came from the former Mid-Canada Line Site in Winisk, Ont., which is being remediated.

The material in question includes:

  • 410 tonnes of non-friable asbestos, mainly packaged wallboard.
  • 540 tonnes of non-hazardous contaminated soil, packaged in bags.
  • 100 de-rimmed tires.
  • 20 crushed vehicles.
  • Six one-cubic-yard bags of scrap metal, all free of oil and other hazardous materials.

Goymer acknowledged that council had made a mistake in not telling people about it, but he said a notice was posted on the town website.

That notice, though, doesn't mention anything about asbestos. It states: "The Town of Gillam council made an informed decision to accept non-hazardous waste into the Gillam waste disposal ground."

It further states that Manitoba Conservation approved it and asks people to use caution when at the dump site.

In another online notice dated Sunday, the Town of Gillam said residents were not notified about he asbestos "because we don't formally notify the public of our ordinary operations, nor have we notified the public about the acceptance and burial of this type of material in the past."

The town said residents have always been invited to attend council meetings, where "all of the information regarding this material was dicussed openly."

With regards to the bags of asbestos being labelled as dangerous, the town said the warnings only apply if anyone goes near the bags or tries to open them.

Restricted access

Goymer said another load will be dumped Thursday and all of it will be buried. The town is getting paid $80 a tonne to accept the material, he added.

Dan McInnis, Manitoba's assistant deputy minister of conservation and water stewardship, said access to the Gillam asbestos site is restricted.

"I don't think there's a need to worry. I also think there's a need not to go there and start walking over the bags and driving over the bags — that wouldn't be a prudent thing to do," he said.

The asbestos in Gillam is non-friable, meaning it is in pellet form and not airborne, McInnis added.

"They're taking every precaution and … ensuring that this stuff won't be entering into people's lungs and causing cancer," he said.

Gillam is located about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, between Thompson and Churchill.