Science in Action – Fighting Climate Change, Smokestacks in Sudbury and Toxins in Kingston’s Inner Harbour
June 2, 2021
Covid-19 has shaken us all. We have been forced to pivot from our long-term challenges and goals, towards emergency crisis management, privately and publicly. The pandemic has laid bare systemic inequalities that are made worse by environmental harms and climate change. As we recover from the pandemic, we must seize this unprecedented opportunity to transform our social safety net and economy, prioritizing access for everyone: our energy supply, our infrastructure, our cars, our homes, our jobs; our very way of thinking about our relationships with the rest of nature and future generations must change.
My experience as a scientist and environmental activist, from climate change, to fighting smokestack emissions in Sudbury, to the toxic contaminants in Kingston’s Inner Harbour, underpins my drive to help build a more sustainable and socially just future as your Member of Parliament in Ottawa.
I will share my views on urgent climate action next week in A Just Recovery for All: Climate Jobs, Climate Justice. My early week posts will be more personal, so that you can get to know me as a candidate seeking your trust and your vote.
Using Science to Fight Emissions in Sudbury
In the 1990s I joined the Sudbury Air Quality (SAQ) committee. My research showed that sulfur and nitrogen dioxide emissions from local nickel smelting were not only acidifying the environment, but also causing higher rates of emergency visits to the hospital, especially those related to asthma in children. The SAQ presented evidence to the City that asthma is triggered by air pollution, and that there are long-term consequences such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, etc. Our science-based activism forced the two nickel giants in Sudbury, Inco and Falconbridge to shut down production when the air quality was poor, and install technology to scrub emissions from their smokestacks.
During 30 years as an epidemiologist, my environmental and social justice activism has led me to fight against pollution and in favour of access to healthy food for all. My close work with Indigenous communities and deep respect for their traditional knowledge and wisdom informs my perspective on everything from ecological agriculture and habitat conservation to climate change.
Toxins in Kingston’s Inner Harbour
Since coming to Kingston 15 years ago, few federal environmental policies have caught my attention like the $71 million proposal to clean up toxic sediments in Kingston’s Inner Harbour between the Lasalle Causeway and Belle Island. For over 100 years, heavy metals (lead, mercury and chromium) from the Davis Tannery and lead smelting, plus residues from coal burning, petroleum storage and PCBs from the Belle Park garbage dump, were released into Kingston’s Inner Harbour. Parks Canada and the Ministry of Transport have a fund to clean them up, and they want the City of Kingston on board.
This has raised strong reactions and important concerns amongst some community members, and one Queen’s chemist, who are worried about the impacts these toxins might have if disturbed during the clean up process. Many of these concerns are addressed in a 2014 report based on years of research by RMC’s Environmental Sciences Group (the full report is available upon request from the City of Kingston; it is summarized in this letter to City Council). The science is complex, but the issue comes down to the fact that the levels of heavy metals are so high along the shoreline of Douglas Fluhrer Park and other areas towards Belle Island that plants and wildlife are still being harmed by the toxicity to this day. Because the water is so shallow, these toxins will not be locked naturally into sediments along the river bottom – they are stirred up by waves and other disturbances, over and over, and could even cause cancer in humans via prolonged skin exposure.
Serious questions need to be answered about the clean up process, and the risks to the environment and local businesses in the Inner Harbour. Public consultations are forthcoming and it will be many months, likely years, before the clean up would start. In the meantime, we need to support the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour and others asking questions. As we get answers, we need to consider the science carefully and make smart decisions.
The same approach is needed when consulting public health experts and doctors during the pandemic. Sometimes governments listen and sometimes they seem to ignore the advice of experts who, for example, knew what was coming as the virus spread and variants emerged.
I will always seek out and listen to all views while making careful decisions that best reflect the evidence and are in the interest of the general public and Kingstonians, not elites, nor lobbyists. This is the tough work of politics – asking hard questions and making the right choices in collaboration with our community. I will do things differently, and bring a much needed public health scientist’s view to the NDP and Parliament Hill.
“Environmental concerns prompt Council to defer proposal for Kingston Inner Harbour”, The Kingstonist, Tori Stafford, April 7, 2021 https://www.kingstonist.com/news/environmental-concerns-prompt-council-to-defer-proposal-for-kingston-inner-harbour/
Letter to the City of Kingston on Kingston Inner Harbour Report, from Environmental Sciences Group RMC, May 18, 2021https://www.cityofkingston.ca/documents/10180/38925656/City-Council_Meeting-13-2021_Addendum-Number-2_May-18-2021.pdf/03a6e6bf-b4e0-357b-1be4-17fb113b1e1d?t=1621372745059
“Kingston Inner Harbour cleanup can be done safely, RMC researchers say” The Kingston Whig Standard, Elliott Ferguson, June 2, 2021 https://www.thewhig.com/news/local-news/kingston-inner-harbour-cleanup-can-be-done-safely-rmc-researchers-say
Background on the Friends of Kingston Inner Harbour’s website: https://www.friendsofinnerharbour.com/april-update-2021/