By Dylan O’Hagan 
Ontario’s Environmental Review Tribunal  ordered the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change  on Dec. 24 to make significant improvements to the Richmond Landfill environmental monitoring plan.
The biggest problem is leachate  – a toxic liquid created from the combination of rain water and garbage – finding its way into ground water and spreading off-site. The landfill is a special case, as it sits on top of fractured limestone, making it a greater environmental risk, said Steve Medd, a member of the Concerned Citizen Commitee of Tyendinaga, an advocacy group pushing for changes at the landfill.
“The problem with fractured sites is…the way the leachate would move through the fractures. Some fractures, the movement is very slight, while others can be upwards of a kilometre or more a year. Because of that variability… it makes it very difficult to locate where the leachate is when you drill a hole in the ground,” said Medd. “It’s very difficult to both detect, monitor and cleanup leachate once it gets into the bedrock”.
The landfill was created in the 1950s, as a community dump for local farmers. After changing owners several times, it became a landfill for Ontario garbage. In 2012, the Concerned Citizens Committee of Tyendinaga  appealed the landfill’s site-license, saying the dump didn’t protect the environment properly. As a result, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change  must improve the site’s environmental monitoring plan and detection of leachate.
The citizen advocacy group has been fighting to change a number of conditions of the site-license, according to chair Ian Munro.
“The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change issued a site-license and we looked at it with our technical and legal advisers and determined that there were five clauses that we found inadequate. They dealt with things like the environmental monitoring plan, the annual and semi-annual reporting processes, public notifications, those kinds of issues,” he said.
The concerned citizen group has had trouble for years tying to determine just how far the leachate has traveled off-site. The fractured limestone makes it much easier for contamination to seep into the ground and groundwater, Munro said.
The improvements will work to better understand how the leachate is getting into groundwater and how far the contamination has spread.
“What is changing now is that more wells are going to be drilled, more studies are going to be done, more effort is going to be put into delineation … which is essentially determining how far the leachate has contaminated the ground water,” said Munro.
The complex hydrogeology of the site is also well known by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. Part of the reason why improvements were required is due to lack of understanding of the hydrogeology of the site, said Ministry of Environment and Climate Change spokesperson, Kate Jordan.
“The initial environmental monitoring plan was an interim requirement while the Waste Management Corporation conducted additional site investigations to better understand site hydrogeology. The Tribunal adopted a precautionary approach requiring enhancements to the existing plan to complete the understanding of hydrogeological conditions,” she said. Adding, “The complex hydrogeological conditions at the site were taken into consideration during the hearing and subsequent decisions. The enhancements to the existing environmental monitoring plan were made with consideration of these complexities.”