A landfill on the Annapolis Valley’s North Mountain — where tonnes of construction debris, asbestos, and toxic waste are being trucked from building sites in Halifax — will not be required to submit to another hydrogeological study by the Nova Scotia Department of Environment. 

Residents whose wells are located downslope from the Arlington Heights Construction & Demolition site want the dump closed. 

In the summer of 2020, a Freedom of Information request disclosed the presence of heavy metals and mercury in surface water hundreds of times higher than recommended levels in Canadian Drinking Water standards.

The Arlington West dump received its permit from the Environment Department after a 2004 engineering report which included a hydrogeological study by MGI Inc. 

The study concluded the soil and bedrock on which the original landfill was built is “impermeable” — a finding that supposedly made groundwater and domestic wells down the mountain from the dump safe from contamination. 

The dump has expanded three times since then and was the site of a long-running underground fire. 

Under the previous owner, the dump accepted a nasty combination of waste of known as “autofluff”: used oils, plastics, and ground-up car parts. The dump did not have a permit to do so and the previous owner, Jennifer Ehrenfeld-Poole, received a warning following an Environment department audit. 

Ehrenfeld-Poole was the Progressive Conservative candidate for Annapolis in the 2021 provincial election, in which she ran unsuccessfully.

In 2017, Arlington expanded and received an environmental approval to bury asbestos waste. 

In 2020, Dexter Construction — the largest road builder and one of the largest engineering companies in the region — bought the dump.

Related: City construction waste going to North Mountain dump is ‘a threat to public health,’ say residents

A small group called the Annapolis Waterkeepers continues to call on the government to close the facility. Kip McCurdy, who lives near the dump and is a co-founder of Annapolis Waterkeepers, contends that the dump “is a hazard to human health.”

In early March, the Waterkeepers submitted a review of the 2004 hydrogeology report to the provincial Environment department. This “second opinion” was prepared by Paul Hubley, a hydrogeologist with more than 30 years’ experience.

Hubley found several flaws with the way tests for “impermeability” were conducted in 2004. He also questioned why MGI relied on the company that owned the landfill to collect the soil samples. Hubley stated:

Based on my review, the conclusion made by the facility reports 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 recommended the province order a new hydrogeology study of the site that should be carried out by a hydrogeologist outside of government. 

Halman won’t order new study

A month ago, Environment and Climate Change minister Tim Halman told the Halifax Examiner he would respond to the new review after scientists in his department had examined Hubley’s work. 

The review of the review has been completed. 

Environment communications advisor Mikaela Etchegary sent the Halifax Examiner the following email, which indicates that Halman is satisfied the 2004 study was, and continues to be, adequate. No further investigation is contemplated. Here’s part of the Department of Environment’s response:

 The 2004 hydrogeological assessment on the site conditions is still valid — the site conditions, including geologic and hydrogeologic conditions, did not change over the 20-year period. The on-going water monitoring program provides additional information about the hydrogeological conditions of the site. However, Environment and Climate Change staff continue to respond and investigate concerns brought forward by local residents.

The soil samples that were used by MGI in its analysis in 2004 were gathered by a professional engineer who was hired by Arlington Heights C&D to prepare the initial application. Again, the soil permeability test that was conducted has been reviewed in detail and meets the requirements set out in the NS Construction and Demolitions Guidelines. Soil permeability testing for the site was also conducted in 2020. The 2020 permeability testing results are consistent with the results conducted by MGI Limited in 2004.

As for how the soil samples were gathered, Kip McCurdy’s account differs from the one put forward by the Department. McCurdy says he was onsite when Arlington’s original owner, Meb Poole*, was operating the backhoe to dig the pit. The way McCurdy remembers the occasion, it was Poole’s son who went down the hole with a device to collect soil samples. McCurdy acknowledges it’s possible an engineer was also on site to supervise. 

In the email to the Examiner from Environment’s communications advisor Mikaela Etchegary, local residents are assured their concerns are being heard:

Local ECC staff are fully engaged on this file and keep the Minister updated. Again, we take all concerns brought forward to us by the public very seriously and do investigate.

 ECC staff conducted a thorough review and analysis of the Hubley report, and our conclusion stands — the site meets the Construction and Demolition Guidelines requirements and is consistent with the MGI evaluation conducted in 2004 and 2005. The Department is required, under the Environment Act, to inspect, monitor, and enforce sites like this to ensure compliance with our regulations and we will continue ongoing monitoring and inspection at this site to ensure risks associated are mitigated and managed by the approval holder.

But Beth Cranston, a member of the Annapolis Waterkeepers commented, “I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised by this decision. It’s more of the same. The response we received from the department is dismissive and it’s very concerning.”

In addition, Kip McCurdy says the response from the Environment department doesn’t deal with a key point of dispute between Hubley and the 2004 hydrogeology report. That dispute is focused on the interpretation of a 2004 test well that was drilled into bedrock and became dry. McCurdy says:

To Paul Hubley, that dry well meant that the water that would have collected as it did in the other test wells, somehow found an exit through the bedrock. But the department’s hydrogeologist interprets that to mean that the bedrock is impermeable, which is a bizarre interpretation that makes no sense.

McCurdy says the reason the group sent Halman a second opinion was so Halman could consider it if future approvals are sought to extend the life or expand the size of the landfill. 

Both McCurdy and Cranston are pleased that Halman has committed to meeting with them “in the near future.” It’s the first time any of the five environment ministers in the past six years have agreed to have an in-person discussion of their concerns. 

The Waterkeepers say these concerns have not gone away, despite the latest reassurance put forward by the Environment department. 

*As originally published, this article incorrectly identified Meb Poole.

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

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  1. Obviously the province has a lot to hide – therefore no new study is needed. The results of any new study would show the same results as the old study and would need to be white-washed and / or ignored. There is no bedrock that is impermiable. Anyone who says so got their geology degree in a box of Cracker Jacks. Or they have rocks in their head. Again, no study = lots to hide. This is just terrible, but what are we supposed to do with all the construction waste?

    1. Exactly right. We were not surprised by the response. How maddening that they exert so much energy being subversive when that energy could go toward a solution and better protection. As for where hazardous waste should go? In a properly LINED landfill that had an Environmental Assessment from the START that isn’t 200km away from the source of the material creating additional unnecessary emissions, and that isn’t on a MOUNTAIN IN A WETLAND WATERSHED NEXT TO THE BAY OF FUNDY WITH WELLS AND SPRINGS IMMEDIATELY DOWNSLOPE. Too much to ask I guess.

  2. Tim Halman and the entire Dept need their heads examined. In this day and age any waste/mining/any ongoing enviro concern, really, should have a full assessment before any sale is finalized. If there are problems, fix before sale or have Purchaser legally commit to remediation & costs within a certain time frame post-sale. Must be enforceable. That particular site has been an ongoing problem for residents & NSians for far too long. Order a proper full assessment and surrounding water tests immediately. What’s the hold up?? ~s

    1. They refuse to test water beyond the site citing homeowner responsibility. But they allowed, and continue to allow the problem, despite tests revealed in our FOIPOP that show them mistakenly testing ~200m North of the site and finding highly contaminated escaped leachate. Dangerous, dismissive behaviour and an obvious threat to public health.

      1. So when Nova Scotia Environment tested the soil 200m north of the dump by mistake, they found something they didn’t want to find, proof that contaminants were travelling outside the dump. So they did nothing. Shouldn’t have looked under that rock. Anyone would think they didn’t care about the health of rural residents. I drove home today behind one of those huge trucks hauling dangerous waste 200km from the city, up the North Mountain to dispose of it, out of sight and out of mind, in an unlined pit over basalt bedrock known for its vertical faulting. Whose government is this?

  3. Ms. Henderson. Kudos to you for staying on top of this. I feel for this nearby residents.
    How can this be acceptable?

    1. We agree that Jennifer deserves kudos! Thank you for your support. It’s horrific to know, at 20 years in, that our community is far from the only one in this province being used and abused by government and big business in this way.