Toxics in Baker Lake dump appall researcher

Broken car batteries and leaking barrels of hazardous waste were recently found at the dump in Baker Lake, Nunavut, by an Arctic researcher who is raising concern about toxic chemicals leaching into the local water supply.

Waste leaking into water source, B.C. professor says

One of numerous photographs University of British Columbia researcher Frank Tester took at the landfill in Baker Lake, Nunavut, last month. ((Submitted by Frank Tester))

Broken car batteries and leaking hazardous waste found at the dump in Baker Lake, Nunavut, have an Arctic researcher raising concern about potential toxicity in the local water supply.

Frank Tester, an associate professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, said he was disturbed by what he saw on a visit last month to Baker Lake's municipal landfill.

"There were containers, some of which were wide open and overflowing, which were actually labelled 'hazardous waste,' " Tester told CBC News in an interview that aired Wednesday.

"There were lead acid batteries, a whole shipping container full of them with the door wide open," he added. "All the batteries spilled out of it onto the ground. Many of them broken and smashed."

Tester took photographs of the toxic waste, including containers of antifreeze and chemical propellants used for spraying foam insulation. Another shot shows used oil filters surrounding a dark puddle of sludge.

"This stuff is toxic and it's not to be in a municipal dump that is leaching into a water course," he said.

Runoff enters drinking water source

A container marked 'hazardous waste' was found at the Baker Lake landfill. Tester said some of those containers were 'wide open and overflowing.' ((Submitted by Frank Tester))
Runoff from the landfill enters Finger Lake, ultimately emptying into Baker Lake, which provides drinking water in the hamlet of about 1,700 residents.

Civic officials in Baker Lake have not returned calls from CBC News.

Information the hamlet sent to the Nunavut Water Board in 2006 confirmed that runoff from the municipal dump does eventually enter Baker Lake.

Municipalities are in charge of their own landfills and are supposed to follow territorial and federal government guidelines, according to officials with the Nunavut government.

"There are standard contaminants that are put into our landfills, but they're supposed to be put in contained areas so that any kind of leaching cannot occur," said Tom Livingston, an official with the Department of Community and Government Services.

Cases of hazardous waste discharge at municipal landfills can be investigated by Nunavut's Environment Department, acting under the territory's Environmental Protection Act.

Pan-northern problem

The problem of hazardous materials in community dumps is prevalent in all three of Canada's northern territories, according to a report obtained by The Canadian Press earlier this month.

Car batteries on the ground at the Baker Lake landfill. ((Submitted by Frank Tester))
The report, prepared by Arktis Solutions for Environment Canada this spring, found plenty of confusion over who does what when it comes to managing solid waste in Canada's three territories.

Heavy-duty industrial waste from mines was spotted at community garbage dumps across the North, as were hazardous household items such as car batteries, paint cans and propane tanks.

"There are challenges associated with the use of community waste facilities for industrial waste (hazardous and non-hazardous) generated outside community boundaries," the report says.

"Community waste facilities may not be equipped to manage waste of this nature or quantity. An understanding of the flow of industrial waste and impacts to communities could be completed."

But the federal government apparently knew about this before Arktis Solutions submitted its report in March. Inspection records kept by at least one department and correspondence between northern players detail the dumping.

"Evidence of this activity in the Northwest Territories has been reported within Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's land-use inspections reports," the Arktis Solutions study says.

A spokeswoman for Indian and Northern Affairs said the department tells communities they're not allowed to accept industrial waste, but the territory is responsible for enforcement.

The study is based on findings from six communities across the North: the capital cities Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse, as well as the smaller towns of Resolute, Nunavut; Hay River, N.W.T.; and Teslin, Yukon.

With files from The Canadian Press