While people in the Halifax Regional Municipality comment on the number of building cranes that punctuate the skyline, how many of us have considered where the tonnes of debris from those dozens of active demolition and construction sites end up? 

Well, one of the graveyards for HRM construction materials — including asbestos — has been the Arlington Heights Construction & Debris dump on North Mountain, adjacent to the Annapolis Valley, 175 kilometres from the city. 

The dump opened more than 15 years ago, has expanded three times, and is presently owned by Dexter Construction. It has also irked and alarmed people who live nearby.

A group of local citizens who formed the Annapolis Waterkeepers say a fire that began at the dump in September 2018 burned underground for more than a year. 

In December of 2020, after citizen complaints, the Department of Environment warned the facility to stop accepting “auto fluff” (a toxic mixture of used oils, plastics, heavy metals, and ground up car parts) which the dump had been burying since 2015, even though it had no official government approval to do so.

The manager of Arlington Heights at that time was Jennifer Ehrenfeld-Poole. Poole was the Progressive Conservative candidate for Annapolis in the last provincial election but lost to Liberal Carmen Kerr. She continues to manage the dump, which is now owned by Dexter.

That’s the back story. What’s new is a hydrogeology study commissioned by the Annapolis Waterkeepers. The group has been trying to convince five successive ministers of the environment that the dump poses a danger to human health through the groundwater — as well as domestic wells — which are downslope from Arlington Heights C & D. 

The response to a 2018 freedom of information request filed by the group showed the presence in groundwater of mercury, chromium, and dozens of other toxins at levels hundreds of times higher than Canadian Drinking Water standards. 

The contamination was also found on private property about 500 metres from the dump. 

YouTube video

Last January, St. Croix Cove resident Kip McCurdy, a founder of the Waterkeepers, made a presentation to Annapolis County council in which he voiced growing frustration at being unable to convince the Department of Environment to investigate concerns about runoff and potential leaching. 

“Faraway bureaucrats know little and care less,” McCurdy told the council. “The result of that indifference now means Annapolis County hosts a disposal opportunity for business that has become the dump of choice for HRM shippers with illicit loads because there is amenable management and zero oversight.”

Hydrogeology report

The dump site at the remote location called Arlington West was approved by the Nova Scotia Department of Environment in 2005. The permit was based on a 2004 engineering study, which in turn relied on a hydrogeology assessment of the site by a company called MGI. MGI concluded the soils on which the dump was built are “impermeable.”

Residents with wells downslope from the dump have repeatedly been told by the Department of Environment that no toxins can escape because the dump is built on “impermeable” layers of soil and bedrock. However, the Waterkeepers group continues to notice and report silty runoff as recently as February. They chose to get a second opinion.

Paul Hubley, a hydrogeologist with 30 years’ experience in three provinces (including Nova Scotia) has appeared in court as an expert. He was recently hired by the Waterkeepers to review the 2004 reports on which the Department of Environment based its decision to approve the dump site. 

Hubley wrote that the 2004 hydrogeology report prepared by MGI contains significant errors and omissions:

 Based on my review, the conclusion made by the facility report that the site soils are “impermeable” is not reasonable. This is based on the various discrepancies and contradictions within the hydrogeological assessment and application that reduce the reliability of the submission below a reasonable standard. 

Hubley noted the hydrogeologist relied on soil samples collected by the company — Arlington Heights C & D — to analyze water flow or conductivity within the ground:

The MGI (2004) reliance on the “proponent” for the hydraulic conductivity assessment is unusual and inappropriate, given the lack of information supporting that samples are representative of the layers where water is flowing. 

In general, the methods used to assess and demonstrate the “impermeability” of site soils were not appropriate for the site, given the observations of water flow during the study period. Based on my review there appears to be considerably more water flow than reported and/or assumed by the assessors.

Hubley recommended that the Environment Department hire an independent consultant to do a hydrogeology review of the site today. 

“This dump is clearly a threat to public health,” said McCurdy. “It must be closed, and the site remediated.”

The Annapolis Waterkeepers sent Environment Minister Tim Halman a copy of the Hubley report at the beginning of March 2023 and have requested a meeting to discuss it. 

The Halifax Examiner asked Halman if he had seen the Hubley hydrogeology report. Halman said staff within the department are currently reviewing it and he expects to receive a briefing and recommendations “in a few weeks.”

“I’m open to meeting with them”, said Halman. “I want people to feel confident in the regulatory process and the regulatory oversights we have. Rest assured the inspectors in the area are doing their due diligence to ensure the company is following all the environmental protocols under the Act. Due diligence will be followed to ensure a proper analysis from the Department of this (Hubley) report and then we will go from there.”

But the news release from the Annapolis Waterkeepers outlining the contents of the Hubley report suggests citizens in that part of the Valley have little faith in the Environment Department to protect them. 

Regarding the significance of the Hubley report, the news release says:

1. It knocks the foundation out from under all the permits and permissions that have ever been issued at Arlington Heights C&D Landfill. 

2. It reveals incompetence and/or lack of due diligence by the NSECC in the review of industrial permit applications. 

3. It substantiates and formalizes complaints the Annapolis Waterkeepers have been making for years.

 4. It will allow the Annapolis Waterkeepers to pursue ministerial and judicial reviews if the minister refuses to consider the Hubley conclusions in any future approvals.

If local complaints and the detailed critique in the Hubley report get a response from Halman, perhaps Arlington Heights C & D will no longer be out of sight, out of mind for citizens in HRM. 

Meanwhile, hazardous waste from the boom in urban construction and demolition continues to be trucked 175 kilometres distant from the Nova Scotia Legislature. That’s the building where the Waterkeepers point out three premiers and five ministers of Environment have failed to act on their concerns.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. This ongoing disaster is like watching a train crash in slow motion. Years of incompetence on the part of NSECC, years of criminal negligence on the part of governments ignoring the legitimate concerns of citizens, a culture in government of industry-friendly policies, and a complete and total lack of enforcement when it comes to rules, regulations, and laws that are supposed to keep citizens safe from greed-driven companies like the former and current owners of Arlington Heights C&D make it clear that NS needs laws that will hold corrupt and/or negligent politicians and bureaucrats accountable for failing to uphold or enforce existing laws and regulations. These politicians, bureaucrats, and business owners need time in a jail cell to fully understand the seriousness of their actions/ inaction.

  2. ‘Private Dump’ is an oxymoron. Dumps are public utilities, potentially dangerous unless managed for the public good. Canada has a nasty habit of succumbing to greed. From Grassy Narrows to Boat Harbour with experimental shipping containers full of plastic bags to the far east, entrusting waste disposal to companies motivated solely by financial interest is a recipe for disaster. Dexter is a lousy corporate citizen, NSECC is a cowardly bureaucracy, government is a shortsighted and irresponsible bunch. Farewell, Nova Scotia……

  3. Under what authority- under the Environment Act- was the 2004 permit granted anyway?

    Its not an Environmental Assessment (Part 4 of the Act). Its not an Industrial Approval (Part 5).

    It is ________ ?