Nfld. & Labrador·CBC Investigates

Revelations about abandoned fish sauce plant spark community concern at meeting in St. Mary's

Residents of St. Mary's attended a town meeting on Friday about the abandoned fish sauce plant in the community.

Environment Canada testing in 2016 found effluent 'acutely lethal' to fish

A man holding a microphone addresses a crowd of people.
St. Mary's Mayor Steve Ryan speaks at a town meeting Friday about the abandoned fish sauce plant in the small community on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. (Dan Arsenault/CBC)

Shianne Hynes attended school in St. Mary's, on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, not far from a long-shuttered fish sauce plant. There were times it wasn't a great combination.

"I'm a graduate from the school just up here, Dunne Memorial Academy, and there were days in our gym class where we could barely breathe because of the smell when we were outside," Hynes said.

Residents have been asking for years to have rotting fish sauce in the derelict building at the edge of St. Mary's Bay cleaned up.

Hynes was one of about 70 people who attended a meeting at the town hall on Friday afternoon.

Council called the meeting in the wake of a CBC Investigates story that uncovered six-year-old Environment Canada testing results on effluent from the abandoned facility.

Federal inspectors visited the site in late 2016, after receiving reports of liquid waste from the building flowing into the ocean. A pipe was immediately sealed to stop it from entering the water.

When tested in a laboratory, the effluent killed all fish within 15 minutes, and was described as "acutely lethal" to fish.

CBC News recently obtained those Environment Canada test results through an access-to-information request, after a wait of nearly four years.

An abandoned building with boarded-up windows.
The Atlantic Seafood Sauce Co. plant in St. Mary's, on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula, has not operated in two decades. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The mayor says he was not aware of those findings, and neither was anyone else in the community of 309 people.

But they now want the problem dealt with, once and for all.

"We don't think that our small town should not be responsible for any of the clean-up," Mayor Steve Ryan said at Friday's public meeting.

A focus at Friday's town hall was on what the Newfoundland and Labrador government could do to help.

Several people at the meeting asked why the premier wasn't there.

A man in a red sweater stands in front of microphones.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey spoke at an infrastructure announcement in Placentia on Thursday. Reporters asked him whether the province would help clean up an abandoned fish sauce plant in St. Mary's. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

On Thursday, CBC/Radio-Canada asked Premier Andrew Furey whether the province is going to do anything to help the people of St. Mary's.

Furey did not provide a concrete solution but committed to at least look for answers going forward.

"We're certainly willing to sit down with all different levels of government and agencies," Furey said after a funding announcement for an unrelated infrastructure project in Placentia.

"As you know, it's not straightforward, it's quite complex, to seek resolution. So we're happy to work with agencies involved, other levels of government involved, and private citizens to resolve the issue for those that it's impacted."

On Friday, provincial Environment Minister Bernard Davis put the focus on the owner of the property. The company dissolved 17 years ago.

"There's three departments in government that are working to track down this individual and to ensure this individual is — as we've always said, polluter pay," Davis told reporters in St. John's.

"If they've got an issue that they haven't cleaned up, they have to clean it up — that's where we're going to be continuing our focus, is on that individual, finding that individual to fix this problem that they've created."

Rotting fish sauce turns N.L. town into ‘disaster zone,’ mayor says

2 months ago
Duration 3:02
A CBC News investigation found that the waste from an abandoned fish sauce plant that was the source of a stench that had plagued the town of St. Mary’s, N.L., for years was also 'acutely toxic' for fish. The mayor is using the information to fight to get the site cleaned up.

Back in St. Mary's, the mayor says the focus now is on securing the site — and working to finding a more permanent solution, by enlisting the aid of other levels of government.

"We want a cleanup ASAP — no ifs, ands or buts," Ryan said.

A red and white logo says CBC Investigates.

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