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Lincolnville dumped on again

This story first appeared in The Coast on Aug 7, 2008:

As residents next to provincial dump can’t seem to air concerns to any level of government, the stink of environmental racism grows stronger.
By Chris Benjamin

Maybe, like Kanye West’s explanation for George Bush’s inaction during the Katrina disaster, our government doesn’t care about black people.

Maybe that’s why it keeps putting dumps in Nova Scotian communities such as Lincolnville, a small rural black community in Guysborough County. In the 1970s a first-generation dump was put there with no community consultation. A first-generation dump is built the old-fashioned way, with no lining or containment system and no plan for when toxins leak into the water supply.

Why Lincolnville? Because the dump in Sunnyville, another rural black community, burned up in a methane fire. “So they moved it to Lincolnville,” says resident Wendy Campbell. She has been trying to get somebody, anybody, at some level of government to listen to her community since a second dump was sited there in 2006.

Mark Butler, policy director for the Ecology Action Centre, says this is no coincidence. “The community was betrayed with the first dump and feels the same on the second. Waste is trucked in from northern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, and Lincolnville is getting little back in socio-economic benefit.”

Butler feels that the province should pay for independent testing of the site for all potential contaminants. “But first, the province needs to come in and say, ‘We understand one of your concerns is water quality, let’s address that. We’ll pay for independent verifiable tests and you can consult with other experts on the methodology used.'”

Some might point out that there are dumps in predominantly white communities, too. Sackville makes an interesting comparison. “Sackville landfill closed a number of years ago,” Butler notes, “because of that community’s concerns. There was compensation given to residents and the site was moved.”

In Lincolnville, residents have become increasingly concerned with all the cadmium, phenol and toluene in their surface and groundwater, all above upper limits. What concerns residents even more are all the chemicals that haven’t been tested for.

“Everything that society packaged went in that dump, including transformers and refuse from offshore oil spills,” Butler says. “Fifteen thousand bags of oily waste went in there,” from the oil tanker Kurdistan which created a serious oil spill in 1979.

Yet the province, which approved and regulates the dump, has never tested material actually leaching out of it. Nor has it tested Lincolnville wells for contaminants associated with landfills, according to Butler. ” would be liable if there was contamination,” he says.

“They say is state of the art,” Campbell says, “but meanwhile the first one may be killing us.” In February she and fellow resident James Desmond organized a march on the dump of about 50 residents and supporters from around the province. In 30 minutes they managed to turn back two of the 30 or so trucks that unload garbage there every day.

Since that time, residents have repeatedly requested answers from the Municipality of Guysborough and the province about why so many of them are getting sick. Desmond and Campbell have noted that there are exceptionally high rates of cancer in their community—each has lost neighbours and family members. “But we’ve heard nothing from anyone this whole time,” Campbell says.

The EAC reviewed the impacts of the dump on the natural environment and the health of the people of Lincolnville, and raised numerous concerns in a June 11 letter to environment minister Mark Parent. A copy was also sent to African-Nova Scotian affairs minister Barry Barnet. Still no response.

Instead, residents received a survey from the municipality. “They wanted to put a water well treatment and storage facility in the community,” Campbell explains. “They did a survey asking the community if they were willing to pay for it.”

Campbell wonders why Lincolnville residents should have to pay to clean up after someone else’s garbage in a dump they never wanted. “Our community is made up mostly of elders and people on a fixed income.”

The community answered the survey with a “no.” “But they signed documents to place the well in the community without our consent,” Campbell says. Now she and Desmond are trying to meet with the Lincolnville Community Development Association, which she says has not met in two years.

Laden with toxic fears, Lincolnville residents are struggling for the survival of their community. “Here you have culture, a place to celebrate our heritage. You have a village bond and you feel safe,” says Campbell. “Nobody wants to give up this land—my mother worked so hard to put our home here—but now I might be forced off. We just want the government to pay attention to what we’re saying—to stop playing us like we’re second-class citizens.”

As we celebrate Nova Scotia as the birthplace of Canadian democracy, you wouldn’t think it would be so hard for a community to get a response from the province. But it’s a little busy right now playing see-no-evil-hear-no-evil la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you.

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