Allen Frank, 81, has been living in his rural north Oshawa home on Ritson Rd. N. for 48 years.
“I have 18 acres of property,” says Frank. “I used to see deer and coyotes here, I don’t see them anymore.”
The long skinny driveway lined with trees on both sides, splits at the end. To the left, the family’s barn, a horse is seen trotting in the fenced yard, to the right, a quaint home, barely visible from the main road with woods and a flowing creek a few meters from the homes back entrance.
Just like the other residents north of Columbus Road, Frank relies on the Oak Ridges Moraine for his home’s well water.
The Oak Ridges Moraine is an environmentally sensitive landform which stretches about 160 km from as far west as Caledon to north east Cobourg.
From 2008 to 2016, Whitby company, Hard-Co Construction, operated a fill site at 618 Columbus Rd. E., a property which borders the Oak Ridges Moraine.
When evidence of toxic material such as used tires and paper mill sludge dumped at the site was found by residents, concerns over potential water contamination grew. However, little to nothing would be done by city officials in addressing these concerns.
Now the same company has applied for a new fill site three times the size of the previous, less than a kilometre away.
On January 29, 2019, Hard-Co Construction applied for a new site-alteration permit for a large fill, approximately 140 acres, on 3440 Wilson Rd. N.
The proposed area which is less than a kilometre away from the previous site and also borders the Oak Ridge Moraine, has been meet with controversy and complaints from residents, hoping to avoid a similar fate as to before.
Hard-Co President, Marshall Harding says the company has done as much as possible for this site application.
“This is the most thorough application anyone in the world has done for a fill site but it’s still concerning to the neighbours,” says Harding. “The residents are worried their wells are going to be poisoned, and it’s just a fear. There’s nothing to it.”
In 2011, Allen Frank was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 2016, it was a new diagnosis in his bladder. Frank was one of several Ritson Road North residents within a kilometre distance of the Columbus site to develop cancer.
“In a one-kilometre distance, out of nine consecutive homes, there is cancer in seven of them, four are bladder cancer.”
Frank suggests the cancer cluster in the region may be due to potential contamination of the soil and water at Hard-Co’s fill site, and despite the number of diagnosis’ in the area, 618 Columbus Rd. E. has still not been tested for potential soil contamination.
“Surely this [cancer cluster] should send a red flag and be seriously considered when issuing a permit for landfill sites,” says Frank.
With both the previous and proposed landfill sites bordering the moraine, potential contamination is a serious risk.
One of the moraine’s important features is groundwater. Precipitation is absorbed through the moraines highly permeable soil on the surface, which then filters through its layers of sand, gravel and clay and collects in a network of underground aquifers.
These aquifers are where rural residents wells draw water from and is estimated to provide drinking water to over 250, 000 Ontarians, according to the Oak Ridges Moraine website.
Clint Cole, president of the Enniskillen Environmental Association says with the exact locations or depths of these aquifer waterways not fully known, the potential for these sites to contaminate water is concerning.
“These aquifers can travel in irregular paths all over, you could have thousands of people in north Oshawa that are using well water that comes from it,” says Cole. “But to prove that, categorically you couldn’t because different people have wells at different depths.”
Cole, along with Frank and Councillor John Neal, have even asked the Ministry of Environment for help but have had no luck.
“They say ‘no’, this is up to the City of Oshawa, they’re the ones that issue the permit, they got to be responsible for any damages that might occur out of this or give rise,” says Cole, a student in the Paralegal graduate certificate program at Durham College. “In order for us to get involved, we have to have proof that somebody’s well is contaminated before we’ll start an investigation. See how it works, it’s reactive.”
On Nov. 4, 2020, Councillor John Neal and residents protested outside Oshawa City Hall in support of a moratorium and interim control bylaw, which would pause the application of the fill site on Wilson Road North.
Neal and residents want a proper evaluation of Hard-Co Construction’s first site at 618 Columbus Rd. E., which has not been tested, as well as an update to the city’s weak site-alteration bylaw, says Neal.
Neal also says accepting an application for a large fill site in close proximity to environmentally sensitive land, goes against the City’s 2020-23 strategic plan, which looks at protecting and promoting the environment.
“They’re [City of Oshawa] just saying, as long as they follow the site-alteration bylaw, which is terrible, it doesn’t protect the water or anybody’s well,” says Neal. “But they can put something nice and pretty like this out, and then not even follow it, their own policy … It’s mind boggling.”
Council has yet to accept the requests made by Councillor Neal and residents.
Harding says Hard-Co has followed all requirements made by the city in order to attain the permit.
“We’ve done everything required for these applications,” says Harding. “We still get painted with this brush that all we care about is the profits. We don’t care about the environment.”
Anthony Ambra, director of Engineering Services for the City of Oshawa, says decisions on larger site-alteration applications such as the case of the Wilson Road fill site end with council.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s always council’s decision. The large fill sites tend to be a little more involved than a typical site-alteration where someone’s coming in, and they’re altering the grade on their property or putting in a pool and or a shed, that doesn’t typically go to council,” says Ambra. “The large fill sites on the other hand, do.”
At the city’s most recent meeting on Dec. 14, council heard from both Allen Frank and Mary Finer on the frustrations of residents having to compromise their quality of life and potential health due to the proposed Wilson Road North site.
Frank and Finer also asked that council moving forward listen to resident concerns and are taken seriously before another application is contemplated by council.
“I realize progress is progress, but let’s do it clean,” says Frank. “What’s the point of riches if you’re going to destruct yourself.”