Michael Moore is sick of this garbage. Toronto’s garbage. Canada’s garbage.
He doesn’t want the stink of another land’s refuse wafting over his native Michigan, and says that Canada should take its waste and shove it where the Queen has sovereignty. “The trash has to be dealt with in Canada,” he told The Canadian Press this week.
But he didn’t stop there. The famed documentarian implicated Canadian garbage (and he called out Toronto specifically) in the nightmare drinking water crisis that has befallen his hometown of Flint, Mich. — though, to be fair, he did cast the blame quite widely. “No one’s immune from it and everyone’s responsible,” he said.
Hold up, Michael. Let’s sift through the grubby facts and get to the bottom of this.
Not Toronto’s garbage
The City of Toronto sends no residential trash to Michigan.
Yes, it’s true that up to 140 garbage trucks wheeled down Highway 401 to dump detritus in Michigan daily from 1998 to 2010. But since then all of Toronto’s rubbish has gone to the Green Lane Landfill outside London, Ont., said Derek Angove, director of processing and resource management at Toronto’s solid waste division.
The garbage Toronto exported to Michigan wound up in the Carleton Farms landfill south of Detroit, more than 130 kilometres from Flint, outside the the Flint River watershed.
Canadian garbage, sure
That doesn’t mean Canadian garbage isn’t getting into Michigan or the Flint area. According to the most recent report from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, 17.1 per cent of trash heaped in Michigan landfills during the 2015 fiscal year came from Canada. That’s roughly 2.4 million tonnes, mostly business and industrial refuse exported by the private sector, according to the Ontario Waste Management Association.
One of two landfills in the Flint area confirmed to the Star on Thursday that they accept trash imported from Canada.
Hamilton volunteers ship water to Flint.
Does it matter?
Thhe big question is whether garbage contributed to the water crisis in Flint at all. The answer, according to water experts who have studied the situation, is no.
The crisis involves dangerous levels of lead in Flint’s drinking water. Researchers point to the corrosiveness of the river water as the culprit, which led to erosion in Flint’s lead pipes. Such corrosiveness isn’t unusual for urban riverways, but is usually remedied by treatment plants.
“All experts are unified, certainly on the lead issue, that that was caused by problems in the (water) treatment, not other things,” said Lynn Thorp, national campaigns director with the Clean Water Action environmental group. While garbage seeping into groundwater could contribute to pollution in the Flint River, Thorp said she’s unaware of any link between garbage and the lead crisis.
Ditto Siddharta Roy, of the Flint Water Study group, which is monitoring water quality in the city of 99,000. Research led by Virginia Tech engineer Marc Edwards points to high levels of chlorides in the Flint River, which seem to have originated from heavy use of salt on winter roads and bridges, which eventually seeped into the river.
“Based on our lab testing, if Flint had added orthophosphate, i.e. practiced federally mandated corrosion control treatment, the damage to water infrastructure and lead contamination could have been avoided,” Roy said.
It’s hard to love garbage, even more so if it belongs to somebody else.
But it seems that, when it comes to the disaster in Flint, there’s no reason to blame Canada.