Hamilton's Industrial Past
For more than 100 years Hamilton has been exposed to industrial and urban development. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Great Western Railway was founded in the city, making Hamilton the centre of Canadian industry. Hamilton’s industrial past has come at a price, namely, environmental degradation of surrounding ecosystems, in particular Hamilton Harbour.
Prior to modern pollution laws, waste was dumped into the Harbour by industries, which today, continue to threaten public health, contaminate fish and wildlife, and restrict the use of the waterfront. Over the past century, sediment contaminated by metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other hazardous chemicals has been released into the environment. The damage done to the watershed has accumulated and resulted in Hamilton Harbour being deemed an “Area of Concern” (AOC).
In addition, Hamilton Harbour receives discharge from three wastewater treatments plants and runoff from urban areas. With a growing population in Hamilton, the Harbour remains a vital shipping centre and maintains one of the largest concentrations of heavy industry in Canada. As a source for social, economic, and ecological progress, significant work has been done to remediate the Harbour and delist it as an AOC.
What is an Area of Concern (AOC)?
An Area of Concern is any site in the Great Lakes System where environmental degradation occurs, resulting in a lack of beneficial use. Currently, there are 9 AOCs on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes, 25 on the United States, and 5 that are shared by both countries. To remediate the damage in each AOC, government, community, and industry partners are undertaking initiatives to restore environmental quality. The remediation process contributes to the social and economic well-being of local communities throughout the Great Lakes Basin. In order effectively restore environmental health to an AOC, partners collaborate using a “Remedial Action Plan.”
What is a Remedial Action Plan (RAP)?
Work on defining the “State of the Harbour” was first initiated in 1985, a “Remedial Action Plan
” followed in 1992, and delisting is anticipated in 2020. The “Remedial Action Plan” (RAP) is a plan to delist Hamilton Harbour from the list of 43 AOCs. Hamilton Harbour was designated as an AOC in 1987 under the Canada-United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
(GLWQA). This agreement promotes bi-national consultation and cooperative action to restore, protect, and enhance the water quality of the Great Lakes Basin. Through collaboration, Canada and the United States work towards AOC remediation in a spirit of friendship and cooperation.
The GLWQA recognizes the importance of the Great Lakes to the social, economic, and environmental livelihood of both countries. More so, the Great Lakes Area has significant population density, raising concern about the risks to public health. In order to address issues facing the Great Lakes, the partners work to find solutions to past damages and limit future threats to the waterways. By acknowledging the entirety of the ecosystem (the land, water, and living organisms- including humans) management actions can be undertaken sustainably.
The interconnectedness of the Great Lakes system and the links to other waterways, such as the St. Lawrence River, requires cooperation between the countries that share these waterways. Restoring the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes promotes a healthy region for present and future generations of Canadians and Americans.
What are the Stages of the Remedial Action Plan?
Each Area of Concern is required to develop and implement a Remedial Action Plan divided into three stages. The stages for the Hamilton Harbour RAP are as follows:
1. Environmental Conditions and Problem Definition: This stage outlines the starting point for the Area of Concern. The current “state of the Harbour” must be identified in order to determine the appropriate remedial actions.
2. Goals, Options, and Recommendations: This stage defines the remedial actions to clean up the Area Of Concern.
3. Evaluation of Remediation Measures and Confirmation of Restoration of Uses: This is the stage where the designation of an Area of Concern is removed when a set of environmental conditions has been met. For Hamilton Harbour, this final “delisting” step is targeted to occur in 2020.