Despite room for improvement, experts say Hay River is doing a good job dealing with hazardous waste in its landfill.
Last month’s dump fire ignited conversation about the potential dangers of hazardous waste in the community, with both fire chief Ross Potter and a dump employee stating that materials are indeed present in the facility that should not be there.
While acknowledging concerns, Mayor Andrew Cassidy said the town has neither the capacity nor the mandate to go through people’s trash, and that there are a number of efforts made and programs in place to help alleviate some of the pressures on the town dump.
“Twice a year, people can drop off whatever they want – paint, oil, anything – with the town and we dispose of it correctly,” he told The Hub. “If people are falling short and still throwing things out that they shouldn’t be … there’s only so much we can do as a municipality to stop that.”
In recent years, the town and the dump contractor Hay River Disposals have also worked together to separate hazardous waste from the larger pile in a distinct area of the facility and have stopped accepting commercial and industrial waste altogether. Both measures, according to Cassidy, have helped make the facility safer. However, he also noted that more public education can never be a bad thing.
“It’s great that people are talking about the proper disposal of household hazardous waste,” said Ecology North’s Kim Rapati. “The Town of Hay River has done a fantastic job of promoting this and providing convenient free disposal events. Throughout the past five years, the town has been making leaps and bounds in addressing hazardous waste issues. They have greatly improved the hazardous waste inventory and have everything accounted for, organized and labeled waiting for shipment out.”
Materials deemed household hazardous waste includes paints, stains, adhesives, solvents, fuel, oil, antifreeze, batteries (lead acid greater than 1kg, rechargeable from electronic devices), pesticides, fertilizers, expired medication, fluorescent bulbs, thermostats and thermometers, propane tanks, aerosol cans, household cleaning products and used fuel and oil.
“We can all work together to prevent these situations,” said Cassidy, referring to last month’s fire and the concerns around the safety of those working to put it out. “But there’s only so much the town and Hay River Disposals can do.”
He also noted that the landfill has been on the agenda for several previous councils along with this one, and that while they are always getting reports that it’s nearly full, administration has found ways to manage it the best they can to extend its life.
“It’s a huge undertaking,” Cassidy said. “So anytime we do build a new facility it will be the most modern and effective it can possibly be. Right now we’re dealing with a site with historic problems and doing the best we can to mitigate them.”
Gerald Enns, hazardous waste specialist with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, however, said the town is doing a remarkably good job.
“It’s a widespread problem in the Northwest Territories, but the hub has some of the best transportation links so the stockpiles are not as significant as other communities in the territory,” he said last week. “There is always concern when hazardous waste is generated, whether in a home or business, but when small amounts accumulate into piles, they become a much larger liability.”