Civilization starts AFTER a society protects its drinking-water!

Well, the verdict is in, the scientist has completed his assessment, and accordingly, everything’s just hunky-dory in the Nanaimo watershed! The Greater Nanaimo Water District, responding to public concerns about semi-truckloads of chemical fertilizers, recently introduced, without the City’s knowledge, into the community drinking-water sanctuary, has decided to go all-out to assuage these fears. They commissioned Dr. Robert Lockhart of BC Research Inc. to do the exhaustive $4500 study.

Now we can be assured that the present rate of fertilizer usage, 44 tons spread on 1000 hectares of clearcuts since 1998, can be maintained at these safe levels. Although 30 tons of these chemicals were imported from Woodburn Fertilizers, a US company which “recycles” industrial wastes into their products and were laced with carcinogenic heavy-metals, “…all new fertilizers should be reviewed for their potential to adversely effect (sic) the watershed…” the report concludes.

Weyerhaeuser, in conjunction with the GNWD will develop a protocol for “corrective actions to be taken in the event that the concentration of fertilizer parameter starts to approach and or exceeds recommended guideline values.” This is an interesting concept, given that by 2005, at the present rate, there will be more than 100 tons of the product spread at 30 grams per application, at 3 metre intervals throughout the watershed. Certainly, this recommendation absolves Dr. Lockhart of his responsibility in the event of a problem.

In fact, the whole issue of liability in the event of a problem is quite interesting. Will Weyerhaeuser be liable? As they say, they are following all of Health Canada’s regulations. The City of Nanaimo drinking-water officials? As they say, they test the water “more than 2000 times a year.” The provincial government? Drinking-water is non-managed by several different ministries. Health Canada? Do we have any federal officials who inspect or regulate what goes on in our community drinking-water sanctuaries?

Who really is protecting our drinking water??!!

Sincerely, Ingmar Lee

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Harbour City Star, Saturday, November 4, 2000 B4

Nanaimo’s water supply tainted: treeplanter

By Rachel Dunstan

How safe is Nanaimo’s drinking water supply? Not safe enough according to Ingmar Lee.

Lee, a professional treeplanter of 19 years, requested a freedom-of-information package from the Greater Nanaimo Water District. He had some serious health and environmental concerns, and wanted to find out just what was being spread behind the gates that are supposed to protect the Nanaimo Drinking Water Sanctuary.

The information package he received went back only two years, covering the period since the ownership of the watershed passed from Macmillan Bloedel to Weyerhaeuser. Since that period, Weyerhaeuser has spread in excess of 44 tonnes of chemical fertilizer over 1000 hectares of clear-cuts within the water sanctuary. Since the land is privately owned, no permit was required. Lee’s concern with the use of chemical fertilizers in around the South Islands watersheds goes back at least a year. Last fall, Lee and his fellow treeplanters were told to pour 50 grams of granular fertilizer (five times the normal application) into a hole an inch away from every tree they planted. The product was designed to be spread with industrial equipment, but instead the planters were advised to tape a film canister to their gloved finger to use as a scoop. Many of the planters developed flu-like symptoms: headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and nosebleeds. After numerous complaints to Weyerhaeuser, they were told they could stop using the product, just as their contract was ending. In January of this year, Lee made his way to Valdez Island to begin another treeplanting season. To his surprise, he was confronted with the same granular fertilizer. He refused to handle it, and was fired. The case ended up in front of a Workers Compensation Board review. Aspects of the case remain under appeal today. Since last spring, Weyerhaeuser has responded to treeplanters complaints by replacing the loose, granular fertilizer with “nutripacks,” the same fertilizer packaged in individual plastic baggies with micro-pores.

Just what is in this controversial fertilizer, a product that represents about three-quarters of the fertilizer spread in our own drinking water sanctuary over the last two years? The Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that come along with this product reveal that ammonaical nitrogens are the bulk ingredient. The sheets go on to warn that these nitrogens are toxic to fish, and are known to promote algae growth and water turbidity (murkiness).

CREWS, the Canadian Reforestation and Environmental Workers Society, had the fertilizer tested at an independent lab in Vancouver. The lab results revealed the presence of cadmium, chromium, strontium, nickel and zinc, at significantly higher than “background” (normal soil) levels. Weyerhaeuser officials argue that these metals do not threaten the watershed or our drinking water, since they will simply be taken up the roots of the young trees they are fertilizing, and absorbed into the wood. Lee isn’t satisfied with that answer. He’s outraged by the sheer volume of toxic chemicals being spread over an area that serves as the water supply of 70,000 people.

He contrasts the “anything goes” situation of the privately owned watershed in Nanaimo with the zero-tolerance policies of the publicly owned water sanctuaries of Vancouver and Victoria. Neither of the two latter jurisdictions would permit logging, let alone the application of chemical fertilizers inside their fences. In Victoria you can be fined $200 just for hiking inside the sanctuary. Nitrate water pollution from fertilizer is an urgent global issue. Now it’s an emerging issue right in our own backyard. If you would like to learn more, you can visit the CREWS website at, or email Ingmar Lee at If you would like to be heard, you can contact any of the following officials:

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Harbour City Star Thursday November 9, 2000 A1

Tainted water headline was wrongly stated

A headline which appeared in the No. 4 edition of the Harbour City Star was incorrectly stated.

The headline, “Nanaimo’s water supply tainted: treeplanter,” appearing with the weekly Nanaimo Recycling Exchange column, did not adequately represent the content of the accompanying column. The headline also left the impression that a tainted water supply here in Nanaimo was fact. The content of the column simply represented the opinion of one individual and the headline should have reflected that. We regret the conclusion reached by some readers that as fact our water supply is tainted. As Daily News stories in the past have stated, such is not the case, although some individuals do believe otherwise.

The Editor

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Nanaimo Daily News Friday, November 10, 2000 A8 Editorial -Peter Godfrey

Positive Step by Water District Folk

The Greater Nanaimo Water District has decided to take steps to prove our drinking water is safe, doing so by hiring a qualified scientist to conduct a study. Good for the district! The decision came about following an article in our sister publication, the Star, which quoted an environmentalist who suggested our water “may be tainted.” As we stated in a follow-up to that article, our headline said our water “was tainted.” Obviously, the public bombarded the water district offices, and so they should, because despite whether “may” or “was” is the case, people are rightfully nervous these days about water supplies, especially following the Walkerton, Ont., catastrophe. Nanaimo and area officials feel confident our water supply is good, in fact better than good, so a qualified study is appropriate and timely. In a sense, the article did some good. It’s important, however, that as discussions about water quality take place, we as a society do not overreact to any one individual source. Environmentalists, for example, have their line of reasoning, scientists another, officials working in the system try to look at all angles. For example, the Georgia Strait Alliance, as we reported Thursday, does not have fertilizer use anywhere as high a priority as the individual quoted in the article. We feel confident that our officials would not jeopardize quality, nor hide that from the public, thus again, a fresh study is a positive for the whole process. If indeed there is a legitimate cause to be concerned, or corrective action is warranted, no matter the source, such action is a must. Nanaimo water quality, officials say, exceeds provincial and Canadian quality water standards. That’s good. But as the Alliance also said, a further study is most certainly worth it. So, in another few weeks the results of this new study will be known. Until then, it might be wise to feel confident in the current testing system, which officials say takes place 2000 times a year, at several locations, at the source, and again after treatment.

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Nanaimo News Bulletin Monday, November 13, 2000 A3

City orders testing of water system

Nanaimo water is being tested for heavy metals in the wake of allegations treeplanting around the Nanaimo Lakes is causing contamination. The BC Research Institute will coduct the tests, following public accusations from tree planter Ingmar Lee that Weyerhaeuser feeds contaminated fertilizer to saplings planted in the watershed.

“We hope to have this finished by the end of the month,” says Mac MacKenzie, Greater Nanaimo Water District chief commissioner.

“I told him there’s some urgency.”

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Harbour City Star Tuesday, November 14, 2000 A2

Water District has high confidence in Nanaimo’s drinking water supply Scientist hired to prove it

By Rachel Dunstan

Last week’s column raised a number of issues concerning the source of Nanaimo’s drinking water. In the interest of balance the Nanaimo Recycling Exchange (NRE) has spoken with City of Nanaimo officials, and we can reassure our readers that the City is doing everything possible to ensure that our water supply remains safe.

In response to concerns about chemical fertilizers in the Nanaimo watershed, the City has engaged Dr. Lockhart, an Environmental Scientist and Occupational Hygienist with BC Research Inc. He will visit the watershed, take samples and return his findings to City staff. The results should be available to the public within about three weeks.

Mac MacKenzie, chief commissioner of the Greater Nanaimo Water District, understands peoples concerns. Water is a hot topic right now. Still, he doesn’t expect Dr. Lockhart’s study to turn up anything alarming. MacKenzie argues that Nanaimo’s drinking water is among the best in the world, meeting or exceeding BC regulations and Canadian Drinking Water Standards. He has a lot of data on file to back up his claim.

Nanaimo’s water is tested about 2000 times a year, both in its raw state at its source in the watershed, and its treated state throughout the distribution system. It’s tested for bacterial elements, volatile organics (herbicides and pesticides), and all trace elements. Samples of Nanaimo’s water are sent to the Vancouver Island Health Region, which in turn sends the samples to Vancouver. The results from these tests are sent back to the Vancouver Island Health Region.

While the current fertilizer program has been running since 1996, the results from water tests have not indicated any deterioration in water quality. Wayne Hansen, superintendent of water supply, argues that any contamination from the chemical fertilizers being used there would have shown up by now if there were going to be any problems at all.

MacKenzie points out that according to at least two indicators, Nanaimo’s water quality has actually improved over the last half decade. In 1994 the City received 162 complaints regarding water quality. This number has dropped dramatically every year. To date in 2000, there have only been three complaints. The cost of flushing the water system to deal with problems has also dropped dramatically in recent years. In 1995 the City spent over $150,000 in flushing costs. So far this year the City has only spent $78,000 to flush out the system.

Hansen and MacKenzie maintain that the Greater Nanaimo Water District has had an excellent working relationship with both MacMillan Bloedel, the previous landowner, and Weyerhaeuser, the current owner of the Nanaimo watershed. Ten years ago the GNWD identified some ways that they felt the forest company could help them improve water quality. The company complied by closing old roads, improving new ones and cross-culverting streams to decrease water turbidity (murkiness caused by suspended sediment)

MacKenzie says that the GNWD continues to have a mutually cooperative relationship with Weyerhaeuser. The current Weyerhaeuser fertilization program is allowed under Land Forest Commission legislation, and meets the approval of the GNWD. Hansen and MacKenzie both consider Weyerhaeuser to be a very responsible corporate citizen.

The City is currently working on an information brochure for the public, but if you’d like more information right away, you can visit The Greater Nanaimo Water District is accesible through the Engineering menu.

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Georgia Strait Alliance 15 November 2000

Editor Nanaimo Daily News Nanaimo, BC

Dear Editor:

Remarks I made to your reporter last week regarding the use of industrial fertilizers in the Nanaimo watershed appear to be slightly misinterpreted in your recent news story and editorial -both which suggested that the Georgia Strait Alliance is not overly concerned about this issue.

We believe that Ingmar Lee has raised a serious issue that deserves further attention. We are not reassured by the Water District chief commissioner’s comment that the substances in the fertilizers are “naturally” occurring. Yes, cadmium and other heavy metals do occur naturally -but what’s relevant is whether their concentration in drinking water and streams is being increased to unsafe levels through repeated applications. In the US, hazardous waste from steel mills, pulp mills and chemical plants has already been “recycled” into commercial fertilizers with extraordinarily high levels of dioxin, lead, mercury, and many other poisons. Without extensive testing and monitoring, how can we be certain that Weyerhaeuser’s fertilizers are safe for use in our watershed?

I was quoted as saying, “We’re not talking about something that’s lethal,” but rather “things that are toxic in the long term.” What was omitted was the question that preceeded this comment. Your reporter asked me if this was a similar situation to Walkerton. I said it was different, in that E. coli in Walkerton’s water was acutely (immediately) lethal, whereas the substances under discussion here are toxic over the longer term. Such substances, which build up through the food chain, have been linked with impacts on development, immune system function and other delicate life processes. In other words, they don’t kill on contact -they cause a longer, slower type of death.

Clearly, a lot more information is neede before any of us should feel reassured that our water is safe.

Sincerely, Laurie MacBride Executive Director