Ecojustice lawyers represented three residents of Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia, in their fight to protect their drinking water from contamination. In several documented cases, residents of Harrietsfield learned that toxic substances such as boron, arsenic, cadmium, and uranium had been found in local groundwater at levels that exceed what is considered safe in the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines. As a result of this contamination, our clients, Marlene Brown, Melissa King and Jonathan Andrews, were forced to rely on filling up jugs at their local church and at the homes of friends and relatives for their drinking water and to travel to the homes of family and friends to bathe and do laundry.
One numbered company that operated a demolition facility on the site asked the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to be removed from the clean-up order. Marlene, Melissa and Jonathan intervened in this case because they were worried that if the company won the appeal and had its name removed from the order, the remaining companies may not complete the work required to clean up their water.
On May 6, 2015, in a judgement that reflects much of the evidence that our clients brought to the court’s attention related to the adverse health risks posed by the contamination, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court upheld the clean-up order. Unfortunately that wasn’t the end of the story.
Many of the steps required to remediate the site have yet to be taken, and residents’ concerns about their water remain — with good reason. In July 2015, the provincial government sent letters to impacted residents indicating that some wells still didn’t meet Canadian Drinking Water Health Guidelines and contained unsafe levels of substances like uranium, lead and arsenic. Letters sent to the same residents in February of 2016 contained similar results.
And now, adding to the mountain of obstacles the community already faces, some of those instructed to remediate the site threw another wrench into the works when they appealed new clean-up orders issued at the end of February.
Working along with lawyers at East Coast Environmental Law, we’ve secured intervenor status for community members Angela Zwicker, Marlene Brown and Melissa King in the two new appeal proceedings.
In the meantime, we’re also working with Harrietsfield residents to implore all three levels of government to work with the community to ensure that it has access to drinking water that is clean, safe, and of an acceptable quality.
Why did Ecojustice get involved?
At the most basic level, Ecojustice got involved in this case because every Canadian should have access to clean water. We also believe that companies that pollute must pay to clean up the mess.
Finally, we believe that certain natural resources – in this case, the groundwater that residents rely on for drinking – belong to everyone and that elected officials are responsible for protecting and maintaining these resources. Upholding the government’s authority to issue and enforce the clean-up order in this case is consistent with the government’s duty to manage these natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations. It is also consistent with protecting the intervenors’ right to water.
What will a win mean?
Our number one objective is to support our clients in their fight for clean, safe water. We should all be able to drink the water that flows through the taps in our homes without fear for our health and safety. It’s time that contaminated site gets cleaned up — it’s that simple. Our clients have been forced to live in fear of their water for too long.