Fighting for access to clean water for residents in Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia

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Nova Scotia Supreme Court says polluters must clean up a site that left water contaminated.

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has confirmed that polluters must clean up a contaminated site in Harrietsfield, N.S., that has left many residents without access to clean, safe drinking water of an acceptable quality for nearly a decade.

We went to court on behalf of three community members – Marlene Brown, Melissa King, and Angela Zwicker. But we couldn’t have won this legal battle without your help. “If Ecojustice lawyers hadn’t helped us intervene, we’d still be in the dark,” Marlene says. “We learned through the legal proceedings that a plume was growing and moving into our community wells, and that 120,000 tonnes of waste was buried at a demolition facility in our community.”

Marlene and her neighbours have endured a long and frustrating legal battle while continuing on with their daily lives. For Marlene, this has meant a weekly routine that involves multiple trips to her local church to fetch water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. Likewise, her neighbours have relied on friends and family for their water needs, or shouldered the financial burden of buying bottled water.

Concerns about water contamination began more than ten years ago when a construction and demolition recycling company (RDM) began operating and stockpiling waste on a site nearby several homes. In 2010, Marlene and her neighbours received a letter from Nova Scotia Environment informing them that contaminants such as lead, arsenic, and uranium had “likely” or “very likely” contaminated their groundwater supply. The government ordered the site’s owners and operators to remediate the site and surrounding areas, but one of the companies took the government to court.

That’s when Ecojustice got involved, along with East Coast Environmental Law Association, we helped our clients intervene in the case.

With its recent ruling, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court sends a strong message that the person – in this case, the company – who pollutes the land must pay for its restoration. And while the company argued its operations had not caused the contamination, the Court ruled its activities had a distinct ground water impact.

We are pleased with the decision. But we also know that clean-up orders can take time to implement. Last year on World Water Day (March 22), we called on you to HelpHarrietsfield by asking the municipal, provincial and federal governments to work together with impacted residents to ensure they have access to drinking water that is clean, safe and of an acceptable quality.

Nova Scotia Environment since pledged to provide these community members with water filtration systems. We hope they follow through on their promise. In the meantime, stay tuned for an update in the coming weeks on how you can HelpHarrietsfield again.

Ecojustice believes that companies that pollute must pay to clean up the mess. We also believe that every Canadian has the right to clean, safe drinking water of an acceptable quality. That’s why we’re committed to advancing the legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment, which includes access to clean drinking water. But we can’t do it alone. We need your help.

Learn more about Ecojustice at: http://www.ecojustice.ca

 

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About Author

Kaitlyn knew she wanted to join Ecojustice while completing her undergraduate studies and was Ecojustice’s summer student in 2006. She joined the staff full time in 2010. Kaitlyn is particularly troubled by the inequality that overexposes low-income and First Nations communities to environmental contaminants and pollution from harmful industrial developments. She has worked to advance the human right to a healthy environment through her work on our Chemical Valley Charter Challenge as well as to promote access to safe, drinkable water in Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia. Kaitlyn loves animals, especially the many rescued ones with whom she shares her home.

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