Sweeping It Under

Our grimy great lakes: The dirty secrets of the Canadian shipping industry’s cleanup practices

This Magazine, September-October 2005

BY Alex Roslin

[NOTE: This story was a finalist for a Canadian Association of Journalists award for investigative reporting and a National Magazine Award for investigative reporting.]

The dirtiest job on the ship was understandably the one Jim Macdonald dreaded most. During his years as chief engineer for Canada Steamship Lines (CSL), aboard carriers including the CSL Tadoussac, Macdonald oversaw the offloading of 25,000 tons of iron ore at the Port of Hamilton on each journey. Now 70 and retired, Macdonald recalls his voyages aboard the 730-foot-long Tadoussac—how, in the late 1980s, the Tadoussac would head back to the far end of Lake Superior to pick up a fresh ore load at Thunder Bay. After a short catnap while the vessel eased through the locks of the Welland Canal, it would be time to clean out the ship. This meant dumping into the water tens of thousands of marble-sized ore pellets that didn’t make it off at port.
Before the Tadoussac arrived in Thunder Bay, the holds had to be spotless. All the stray pellets—which mariners call sweepings or spillage—had to be cleaned out and dumped. The excess pellets would coat the bottom of each of the five enormous cargo holds. Below the holds was a 650-foot tunnel. Inside it, two giant conveyor belts would carry the cargo down the length of the ship, up the unloading tower at the stern, out over a 250-foot discharging boom and into a concrete well on the Hamilton dock.
Half a dozen deckhands would start washing the pellets out of the holds and into the tunnel. In the bowels of the ship, the tunnelmen had the nastiest task. Squeezing into the narrow work space between the conveyor belts, their job was to shovel the stray pellets onto the belts and make sure the machinery in the tunnel ran smoothly. The tight spaces in the tunnel would be choked with iron-ore dust; Macdonald says the tunnelmen wore artificial breathing devices.
By the time the tunnelmen were done, the Tadoussac would be in Lake Erie. The ship’s master would swing the boom out over the water and pass Macdonald the word to have the electrician start the conveyor belts. The belts would whir into motion, and the sweepings would pour off the boom into the waters of Lake Erie for half an hour, leaving a trail of iron-ore dust in the ship’s wake—the only visible sign of the environmental degradation.
It was a routine task but, even though he was a seasoned sailor, it never sat right with Macdonald. He is certainly no tree-hugger, but thinks there must be an alternative. “It’s been a bone of contention for me for years,” he says. “They call this spillage. I love the term.”
CSL is only one shipping company dumping sweepings into the Great Lakes. Ships have discharged cargo residue there ever since armadas of ore carriers started criss-crossing the lakes in the 1870s. No one knows how much has collected on the lakebeds travelled by major carriers, but cargo sweeping is routine for the 130 lakers that ply those waters today. Fourteen of these lakers are owned or operated by CSL, the company held by Paul Martin from 1981 to 1993, when he became finance minister and transferred management duties to a trustee.
Canadian and US shipping companies pump an estimated 2,500 tons of cargo residue into the lakes each year during 11,000 ship transits, according to a 1999 report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Data from a study commissioned by the US Coast Guard in 2003 suggests that 80 percent of the dumping takes place in shipping lanes that pass through sensitive-species habitats. Its numbers imply that 45,000 to 64,000 tons of cargo—the equivalent of 6,000 to 9,000 garbage-truck loads—has been dumped into the lakes since the practice started. And nearly all the discharges qualify as pollutants under guidelines of the Ontario government, according to a 1993 study commissioned by the Canadian Coast Guard.
All three studies warn of potentially serious harm to marine life and the environment and say more research is urgently needed. Among the worst substances dumped are petroleum coke, which can be toxic at low doses; coal, which can retard plant growth and cause wetland damage; and lead ore, which can be poisonous and contain trace elements of arsenic.
What’s more, the studies say cargo sweeping violates laws in both countries—namely Canada’s Fisheries Act and the US Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships—as well as an international treaty on ship garbage. “Technically, this has always been illegal under US law and probably in Canada too,” says Eric Reeves, a retired US Coast Guard commander. “If you read the law, this stuff should have been prohibited or subject to a permitting.”
But many Canadian environmentalists have never heard of cargo sweeping, and questions about it leave them stunned. Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, is amazed when told about the dumping. “If it is going on in the Great Lakes, it is illegal. The Fisheries Act is very, very clear. You don’t put anything in the water that is harmful to fish.”
Also upset is Toronto-based Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, an organization that monitors water quality in the lake. “Are you serious?” he asks when first informed of the practice. “This is quite a serious matter. This is our drinking water.” Mattson says federal and provincial laws lay out strict requirements for permits, monitoring and testing of discharges and, for violations, huge fines and even the possibility of jail time. The dumping potentially runs counter to the federal Fisheries Act, Ontario Water Resources Act and Ontario Public Lands Act, he says. “You can’t put anything on the bottom of the lake without a permit. There is no way around those laws.”
Or is there? Perhaps shipowners have found a way. Even though their vessels have poured heaps of potential pollutants into the lakes, in possible violation of a cluster of laws, they haven’t been overrun with angry environmental inspectors demanding to know what is going on. Of course, the shipping companies weren’t going to shout from the rooftops about what they were doing. And cargo residue wouldn’t necessarily show up in tests of water, unless the water was taken from the middle of a lake, where the dumped material had settled on the bottom.
It seems the regulators have rewritten that old Vegas saying: What happens in the Great Lakes stays in the Great Lakes.
When Eric Reeves was 10 years old, he would play on the beach at his family’s home north of the picturesque tourist town of Muskegon, Michigan, halfway up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. While building sand castles, Reeves often dug into a rusty-looking layer of sand on the beach. “What is that?” Reeves would ask his parents. “Look out there,” they told him, pointing to the horizon. “It’s from the lakers.” 
Far out over the waves, silhouetted against the western horizon, the 1,000-footers hauled in the range of 65,000 tons of coal or iron ore from Lake Superior down to the steel mills of the US industrial heartland. The reddish-brown layer of sand that clouded Reeves’ childhood vacations on the beach was produced by taconite, a low-grade ore. The taconite sweepings had drifted 15 kilometres from the shipping lane to the beach at the Reeves home.
Thirty years later, in 1993, Reeves found himself in Cleveland, Ohio, stick-handling the thorny question of what to do about cargo sweeping. A lawyer, Reeves took over as chief of staff of the marine environmental branch in the US Coast Guard’s Ninth District, which regulates shipping and environmental issues in the Great Lakes. “I was an oddball in the military bureaucracy because I felt like an environmentalist at heart,” he says.
One of the most sensitive files on Reeves’ desk was cargo dumping. It was already a mess of bureaucratic evasion, political squabbling and thorny legal questions—the kind of thankless, unwelcome file that, if handled poorly, could easily end a military career. While the dumping had been an open secret among mariners for decades, virtually no one outside their small world had known about it until it was discovered, quite by accident, in the late 1980s. Eager to try out new sonar gear, scientists at the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration decided to do a sonar survey of the underwater topography of the Great Lakes. They stumbled on something bizarre: footprint-like clumps with extremely bright acoustic signatures that stood out like neon lights in the lakebed mud.
Divers were sent down to investigate the murky depths, and they reported that the residue was excess cargo from ships. Chris Wiley was one of the first Canadians to hear the news from the Americans. “They said, ‘Gee, this is a bad thing. You really don’t want to disturb this,’” says Wiley, who works out of Sarnia, Ontario, as a sort of Great Lakes ecology guru for two federal agencies—Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Around the same time, in 1987, the US government did something that would cause it years of headaches. It signed the Marpol V accord of the United Nation’s International Maritime Organization. Marpol V imposes restrictions on dumping garbage at sea, including cargo residue. Signatories agree not to allow cargo sweeping in inland waters and to permit it only in the ocean, at least 12 nautical miles offshore.
In 1987, the US Congress adopted the Marpol rules into the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, effectively banning cargo sweeping in the Great Lakes. The US shipping industry was furious and lobbied for an amendment, saying it was absurd for cargo ships to be sent 1,000 kilometres out of the lakes, down the St. Lawrence River and all the way into the ocean to discharge residue. But Congress refused to amend the law, fearing that pressure would mount to water down other environmental standards too.
This is how things stood when Eric Reeves took over the file. “The lake carriers said, ‘This thing is going to put us into a fix,’” he recalls. “I spent long evenings in the office after everyone else had gone home trying to figure out what kind of fix we had gotten ourselves into.”
To make matters worse, the coast guard wasn’t prepared to spend any money to study the discharges or their impacts, leaving Reeves penniless to act. “I requested money to study it. There was nada,” says Reeves. “I was kind of stuck.” He had to rely on shipping companies for information to help with any decision, and they insisted the amounts being dumped were tiny and that the sweepings were non-hazardous. 
Finally, he wrote a memo to his boss saying, “We’ve got a law here we can’t enforce.” In 1993, with the coast guard’s approval, Reeves called in a couple of experts on the environment and fisheries, reps from the US and Canadian shipping industries and government Great Lakes expert Chris Wiley, representing Ottawa. Reeves sat them down in front of a map. Together, they wrote a set of rules to make cargo dumping acceptable again—if not legal. “We were literally sitting down at a map and drawing lines together,” Reeves says.
The new rules would not be actual regulations—because cargo sweeping was, after all, still against the law—but were enshrined in a Special Notice to Mariners. Under the “interim” policy—which has been renewed every five years since, ships could dump cargo anywhere in the lakes, with a few minor restrictions. Dumping must take place at least 2.6 to 12 nautical miles from shore, depending on the type of cargo, and not within sensitive zones like spawning grounds or wetlands. The policy places no restrictions on the type or amount of cargo dumped; limestone and other clean stone can be dumped anywhere, even inside the two-mile boundary. “It is an interim enforcement policy until Congress changes the law,” Reeves says.
Now it was the turn of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Justice to be upset. Reeves’ new policy disregarded a law of Congress, they said, and was itself illegal. “I raised some hackles in Washington that I was not enforcing the law,” he says. “I had a high-level guy from the Department of Justice saying I could be put in jail.” Reeves says he retorted, “I can’t enforce this. It will put them [shipping companies] out of business.”
“If you have to let them do it, can’t you just not talk about it?” Reeves says the justice official asked him. That bothered Reeves. He thought they should at least be upfront that the law wasn’t going to be enforced. That was far better than a dishonest policy of winks and nods. Besides, the EPA had its own unenforced policies. Under the US Clean Water Act, dumping pollutants or waste into the lakes is illegal without an EPA permit. What’s more, Reeves says, the Refuse Act makes it a misdemeanour to discharge refuse into navigable waters of the US without a permit of the US Army Corps of Engineers. To get a permit from either agency, shipping companies would have to go through a lengthy regulatory procedure of monitoring and studying the discharges for toxicity, without any guarantee of approval.
But the EPA wasn’t going after the ships either, Reeves reminded the justice official. “I got angry with him. I said, ‘Why is the EPA not shutting the lakers down? It’s illegal under the Clean Water Act. Why don’t you shut them down?’”
The official backed off. Reeves had won the argument. But he knew he was on shaky ground. The fact was that Reeves, as the coast guard’s environmental officer, had the duty to enforce the Clean Water Act on ships, too. It wasn’t just the EPA’s job. Two different laws said Reeves should crack down on cargo sweeping. And he felt there was no way he could do it. “That would have been ridiculous,” says Reeves, now 53 and retired, in an interview from his home in Montague, Michigan. “I would have lost my job.”
Back in Canada, Chris Wiley and his colleagues in Ottawa watched the legal absurdities south of the border with dismay. They thought it would be nice for Canada to sign Marpol V too, but they wanted no part of the fiasco it had caused the Americans. “Every time five years come up, the US Coast Guard just cringes,” says Wiley.
“We were certainly aware that we didn’t want to get ourselves in the same situation as the US Coast Guard,” says Tom Morris, Transport Canada’s manager of environmental protection in the marine-safety branch. The Canadians had a better idea: Why not do a study?
The Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for ship-borne pollution, so Morris rustled up some funds for them to hire Melville Shipping to investigate—a now-defunct Ottawa company that designed icebreakers and often worked for Canadian shipping companies as a consultant on ship operations. The 1993 Melville report, the first study of the phenomenon by either country, estimated that 1,000 tons of cargo were being dumped into the lakes each year by Canadian vessels alone. A staggering 93 percent qualified as harmful to fish under the pollution guidelines of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. And the discharges seemed to conflict with the Fisheries Act, which prohibits dumping of coal ash, stones and other “deleterious substances” in waters where fish live. (Violators of the act can be fined up to $1 million, while repeat offenders can be jailed up to three years.)
Little information existed on how the discharges affected the lakes and marine life, but the report listed numerous reasons for worry. It stated that the ore cargos contained metals like nickel, copper, zinc and lead, which can be “very toxic” to aquatic life, even in small amounts. It also stated that coal dumped from ships can release cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons into the water; that floating slicks of ore dust can flow long distances on currents, with potentially “serious effects” on wetlands and marshes; and that grain cargo can hurt fish by depleting oxygen in the lakes. According to the Melville report, grain cargo can also turn into a toxic sludge that activates dormant contaminants on lake bottoms.
The highest priority, according to the study, was to reduce spillage of ore into Lake Erie, where a combination of shallow depths and extreme existing pollution had created water conditions that would cause metals to quickly leach out of the discharged cargos and become especially poisonous. The study also said spillage in the other lakes “should be minimized” in order to comply with the Fisheries Act and recommended against discharges in other fragile spots like spawning grounds and harbours. Finally, the study called for guidelines on cargo dumping and research into the content and impact of the discharges and ways to reduce their volume.
But after listing all these seemingly serious concerns, the report came to a bizarre non sequitur: There was actually nothing to worry about. “The damage done is minimal,” the report concluded. “The effects are probably very small.” The kicker was that Ottawa needn’t take any major action at all. “Self-regulation and voluntary reductions of spillage may obviate the necessity of government-imposed regulations.”
That seems to have been just fine with the feds. Self-regulation it would be. In 1994, the members of the Canadian Shipowners Association voluntarily agreed to adopt the rules of the US Coast Guard. In accordance with the US rules, sweepings stopped in sensitive zones and close to shore. But otherwise, it was life as usual. Canada never adopted the recommended guidelines on cargo sweeping, nor did it do any of the called-for studies. Ore sweepings kept splashing into Lake Erie. And even though 124 countries have signed Marpol V—even flag-of-convenience nations like Liberia, Vanuatu and the Bahamas, which are notorious for their lenient shipping regulations—Canada still refused.
But the saga, like some monster from the deep, wasn’t quite finished. With the Melville report officially saying that cargo was being chucked into the Great Lakes, Canada was obligated under an old treaty with the US to report the dumping to the International Joint Commission, an independent agency that safeguards water quality in the lakes. The commission wasn’t pleased. “That in turn caused the US great problems,” says Wiley. “They said, ‘You’re polluting the Great Lakes.’”
The renewed attention had one positive effect. The US Coast Guard finally coughed up some funds for Reeves to do a study. He got $5,000. It was a laughable amount, and it took years to get even that, but Reeves put it to surprisingly good use by gathering 40 scientists, US and Canadian officials and shipping-industry reps for the first-ever cargo-sweeping summit. It was held in 1999 under the auspices of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at its high-tech Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The meeting was somewhat of a letdown. Attendees went off into working groups to hash out the impacts of the dumping on fish, lake sediment and water quality. One of the groups determined that nine of the 15 types of cargo dumped into the lakes were potentially toxic. “Of particular concern,” said the final NOAA report, was taconite—the rust-coloured ore that Reeves had dug up as a kid—and the possibility that it could release toxic trace metals into the lakes. Some cargos—namely iron ore, coal, petroleum coke, millscale and slag—had “the potential for both acute and chronic environmental impacts,” the report said. But no one really knew what the impacts were. “There is a critical lack of knowledge and, therefore, a strong need for research.” Again, there were urgent recommendations of studies of the impacts and how to reduce the dumping. And once again, nothing happened.
One of the few hard pieces of data from the NOAA report was a “conservative” estimate of how much cargo was ditched on an average trip: 225 kilograms. The problem with the estimate was that a lot of the data came from logbooks and other records of the shipping companies, rather than independent sources. When the US Coast Guard finally got around to doing its own study of cargo sweeping in 2003, it concluded that estimates of the quantities dumped were too low because they relied on shipping company records that were incomplete and underreported the practice. Many vessels “obviously had not recorded all events,” the coast guard said. “There were cases in which similar vessels with similar cargos and routes gave vastly different estimates of residue, an average of 25 pounds versus 400 pounds, for example.”
In Thorold, a hamlet on the Welland Canal, Macdonald is flabbergasted when asked about NOAA’s 225-kilogram estimate. “That’s absolute bullshit,” says the former CSL chief engineer. “It could be 20 tons, easy.” Independently, two other former chief engineers at CSL give similarly high figures. Robert Stockman, a retired chief engineer who worked for the firm from 1989 to 2000 and now lives in Hamilton, says the NOAA estimate “is not accurate” and that the average amount dumped at a time was an amazing 30 tons. “In later years, it was restricted where we would put it, but it never stopped,” he says.
Raj Ranganathan, another former CSL chief engineer who worked for the company from 1973 to 1993, also says the NOAA estimate is off. “They must be kidding me,” he says, putting the actual amounts even higher than Macdonald or Stockman.
All three men say the cargo was usually dumped discreetly, either at night or, if in daytime, when planes or other ships weren’t nearby, to avoid attracting attention.
At CSL headquarters in Montreal, spokesperson Annie Paré flatly rejects the figures given by the former officers. “The quantities involved vary between 300 to 1,000 pounds depending on the product carried on board,” she says in an email. For the company’s main cargo, ore, an average of 300 pounds is dumped per trip, she says, while for grain it is 20 to 50 pounds. Paré also denies the claim that the sweeping is done discreetly at night or when there are no witnesses. “This is definitely not our policy!” she writes.
Cargo sweeping is “a practice that results from the normal operations of a vessel,” Paré says. The cargos are non-hazardous and, in the absence of Canadian policy or regulations, CSL voluntarily follows the US Coast Guard rules in both Canadian and US waters, she says.
In Cleveland, Ohio, Glen Nekvasil also casts doubt on the figures given by the former CSL officers. “The numbers sound very high,” says the vice-president of corporate communications at the Lake Carriers’ Association, which represents 12 companies with 55 US-flag lake-going vessels. “That’s not the case on our vessels…. There is a tiny amount left over when vessels load and offload cargo,” he says. “These are not hazardous materials. Where does iron ore come from? From the ground!”
But whatever the size of the load being dumped, a deeper question remains: Is there really no way to avoid tossing cargo into the lakes? The shipowners are adamant that it can’t be helped. A ban, says Nekvasil, “would shut us down.” And that, in turn, would shut down North America. Piling up in port would be 150 million tons of annual shipments of ore for the Steel Belt, coal for power plants, grain for food producers—the lifeblood of the economy. This same line is taken up by Canadian officials. “They quite literally would have shut down shipping on the Great Lakes if they had taken the law in the US,” says Chris Wiley in Sarnia. 
But, amazingly, given the questions about potential toxic impacts and legalities, there has never been an independent look at whether the dire predictions are true. The government studies all seem to start from the premise that cargo sweeping is as immutable as the lakes themselves. When asked if alternatives have been studied, Transport Canada’s Morris says, “Not by us.” The Ottawa-based Canadian Shipowners Association echoes the response. “We’ve never really looked at options,” says Réjean Lanteigne, the association’s vice-president and former director-general of the Transport Canada marine-safety branch.
The only cursory look at the matter seems to have happened when the US Coast Guard did its 2003 study. For the report, the Lake Carriers Association in Cleveland was sent a letter asking if sweepings could be disposed in a dumpster on shore while ships are still in port. The association said no. Doing so would delay ships half an hour and require eight man-hours of work, costing $15,000 per trip. It was “not feasible.” But was it really so impractical? Was there a cheaper alternative? How did the cost stack up against what was being done to the lakes? Given the stakes, one might expect the authorities to explore these questions independently, rather than relying only on the response from the shipowners. They never did.
In fact, Macdonald says offloading at shore is quite feasible. He says he suggested it himself at an annual meeting of the company’s ship captains and chief engineers in the mid-1990s. His proposal was that CSL and other companies could split the cost of barges in the ports, onto which they could offload sweepings. “That went nowhere,” he says. “It was a lead balloon. I was just laughed off the face of the earth because it was going to cost money.”
Another alternative is already in place in a new generation of ships that have special holds to store spillage until they can be discharged at the next port of call, says Robert Stockman. He says most of today’s lakers were first built decades ago and discharge a lot more cargo residue than modern vessels. “They need to design safer ships,” he says.
Eric Reeves calls on the shipping community to explore alternatives and likes the idea of offloading in port. “It might be feasible for some vessels, for some cargos. It would be nice if they could do that,” he says.
It is reprehensible, he says, that cargo sweeping hasn’t been studied more, especially its impacts and alternatives. “C’mon guys, it’s worth $100,000 to take a good round turn on the thing. Let’s not just hobble along with reauthorizations of the [coast guard] enforcement policy,” he says. “We need to know more about the biological availability of some of these things. We don’t know [the impacts]. We should spend some money tracking down these lingering issues.”
Some of those lingering questions may finally get answered. The US Coast Guard renewed its “interim” enforcement policy once again in 2004, but it has also started a policy review that includes, at long last, an in-depth environmental-impact study. If the impacts are bad enough, says the coast guard’s Lieutenant-Commander Mary Sohlberg, it’s even possible—though extremely unlikely—that cargo sweeping could be banned when the policy expires in 2008.
“Cargo sweeping in the Great Lakes is a complicated issue. Our policy options will emerge as we go through the research gathered in the environmental assessment, the regulatory process, public meetings and meetings with industry,” she says.
Back in Canada, no studies or policy reviews are planned. In fact, government officials seem more eager to pass the buck than to take action. At the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, spokesman Steve Payne says the Great Lakes are provincial Crown land, where written permission for releasing any material is required under the Ontario Public Lands Act, with fines of up to $5,000 for violators. “It’s just simply not allowed without permission, which is hardly likely to be given,” he says. “Why would we give anyone permission to dump anything in the lakes?” A ship has never gotten a permit for dumping cargo, Payne says, but the bottom line is the ministry doesn’t monitor vessels for discharges, so it isn’t likely to do anything about them.
Over at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, spokesperson John Steele says cargo vessels that dump anything in the Great Lakes are also subject to the Ontario Water Resources Act and Environmental Protection Act, which both regulate discharges of waste. “Could it be a violation of the Ontario Water Resources Act? I suspect yes,” he says. “If a company generated waste, [the company] would have to test the waste to see if it is hazardous.” Violators of either law can be fined up to $6 million per day per charge, and individuals can be sentenced to jail. So is his department taking action? Steele says his department could, in theory, but it doesn’t have the authority to pull over vessels because they are regulated by Transport Canada.
There, too, interest in clamping down is nowhere to be found. Spokesperson Marie-Josée Dubois says her department intends to sign Marpol V in the next few months, but with the proviso that cargo sweeping will be allowed in the lakes. “Transport Canada is developing new regulations that will incorporate the Marpol V requirements,” she says. “The regulations will restrict the discharge of cargo residue into waters across Canada, with special provisions for the Great Lakes where discharges will be allowed in very specific areas to be consistent with U.S. requirements.”
In Sarnia, federal Great Lakes guru Chris Wiley says “nothing is going to change” when Canada finally signs the maritime accord. And he has a message for Ontario if it should ever try to investigate ships: “Shipping is a federal responsibility. Ontario has tried to introduce things on shipping [in the past], but they have been told very politely, ‘Bugger off.’
“The reality is this stuff is not politically saleable,” he says of efforts to regulate ship discharges. “Shipping in Canada is below the radar.”
It also seems to be below the radar at Environment Canada, the department that enforces the Fisheries Act. Twelve years after the Melville study, a senior official there says she has never even heard of cargo sweeping and that she knows of no investigations of it under the Fisheries Act. “We would have to look at what they’re doing and see if it’s a problem,” says Nadine Levin, the department’s senior policy specialist for legislation, regulations and enforcement. “It’s never been brought to my attention as an issue.”
Over at Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, Mark Mattson is so outraged he has hired a researcher to look into whether there are grounds for the filing of a legal complaint with the province and Ottawa to oblige them to investigate. “If they don’t take action, we can complain to the NAFTA environmental commission to seek a review of whether the governments are not enforcing their own law,” he says.

On the other hand, Mattson says the inaction isn’t surprising. “When it comes to income tax or drugs, they have huge armies of people out there enforcing the law,” he says. “[But] they have next to no investigators on these environmental issues. The consequences are disastrous. That is the bigger issue.”