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An uphill battle

Elmira Independent editorial

This past weekend, Chemtura opened its doors to the public.

While it was clearly a move designed to improve the chemical company’s image in the community, it seems the open house may have failed in its purpose.

Chemtura has long been associated with a source of problems in our community — even as it has also served as a source of employment.

Historic practices of waste disposal on the site led to the contamination of Elmira’s groundwater, a problem that, more than 20 years later, still exists — and, depending on who you talk to, may well exist for another 20 years.

Elmira residents can also recall the years of so-called “fumigation” in the late 1990s when odours were so bad that the Ministry of the Environment brought in special equipment to test our air, and residents were trained in the art of taking air samples.

More recently, this community saw the release of BLE-25, used in the manufacture of rubber goods. The spill, which took place in the afternoon of Sept. 27, 2010, raised a series of questions about the safety of Elmira residents, ultimately leading to a review of how the community — and township officials — are informed of emergencies on the Chemtura site.

That’s a lot of history to overcome.

This past weekend’s open house is a very small first step for the company. While the entire town was invited, it was pretty clear that most of the visitors were family members of staff at the chemical company — which speaks to the level of trust (and, perhaps, interest) that can be found in the rest of Elmira.

Tours of the facility were limited in scope, focussing primarily on the ongoing cleanup of contaminated groundwater that is taking place on the facility, highlighting the success their state-of-the-art system has in removing contaminants from the groundwater.

Of course, since this is work the company is required to do under order of the Ministry of the Environment, this work doesn’t necessarily merit any gold stars.

And that’s the problem that Chemtura is going to have, when it comes to improving its image in the community.

Almost everything it is now doing to improve the environment of Elmira has been mandated by provincial authorities and is not being done on its own initiative.

And, when the company had the opportunity to remove all of the source material contaminants in former waste pits GP1 and GP2, it opted for a partial removal — much to the displeasure of members of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee.

We know that, as an actual business, the company will always have to weigh the pros and cons of the cost of anything it has to do. The company has already spent millions on its cleanup work, and always has tough choices to make, when it comes to going above and beyond the call of duty.

However, Ontario taxpayers are also footing the bill for the current cleanup, and Elmira residents have also paid the price, in many additional ways, over the years.

It may well take more than an open house and barbecue before Elmira residents will believe that Chemtura has this community’s best interests at heart.

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