Kahnawake council investigating air pollution issue after complaints

Kerry Diabo says his life in the Mohawk community of Kahnawake has been marked by constant pollution. An issue that has afflicted many in the territory for decades.

“We have factories surrounding our community, battery recycling plants. It’s been there since I was a kid in high school. We used to suffer from rolling clouds of green smoke and foul smells,” Diabo said in a recent interview.

The community now faces another environmental challenge – air pollution.

“This past year I have been noticing it out this way. It’s coming from the east… northeast. So, we have different industries coming from that end so we don’t know,” he said.

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake is now investigating the issue – after community members sounded the alarm.

Diabo recounted that at night a foul odor permeates the air around his property.

“Everybody is concerned. Kahnawake has a high rate of cancer. Different types of diseases associated with contamination,” Diabo noted.

Some residents say they believe the pollution could be coming from an industrial park in neighbouring Sainte-Catherine. Most worrying to community members is that the local high school – Kahnawake Survival School is adjacent to the park.

“There were concerns – it was brought to our attention via an email last week about issues with a battery recycling plant. I think it is called Terrapure,” Jason Calvert, the operations manager at the Kahnawake Education Centre, said in an interview.

“We reached out immediately to the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO) to ensure that our students were safe. KEPO responded immediately telling us that there was no imminent danger at the school itself.”

However, KEPO’s monitoring devices did record spikes in poor air quality in the community around the same time the complaints were coming in.

In a statement to APTN, Terrapure said, “We only became aware of concerns in the community late last week and immediately reached out to a representative to arrange a meeting.”

That meeting has yet to take place.

According to Calvert, air pollution near the high school is nothing new. In fact, prior to 2008, the problem was worse because Survival School was then located even closer to the industrial park.

“When I first started here it was in 2003, I saw some of the issues. A lot of it was coming from Associated Steel with the car crushing. All day you hear the cars going through. And every now and then there would be a small fire and there was a noticeable odour,” Calvert explained.

Chief Cody Diabo is in charge of the environment portfolio at the council. He said there have always been concerns about the school’s proximity to the industrial park in Sainte-Catherine.

“There have been times where the school had to be sort of let out the students, sent them home because of air quality in the area just from smell and different sites of and the different activities that were going on there,” the chief said.

In terms of this current situation, Chief Cody Diabo said that the Mohawk Council has not been able to determine where the air pollution is coming from. But he said the council had purchased new air quality monitors.

“As soon as those get into the territory and we set them up, we will be able to get more data in terms of what it is. Right now, all we can do is either speculate or just say maybe there is a link and it’s warranting further investigation,” he added.

In a statement, the city of Saint-Catherine said environmental protection is a priority.

“We take these concerns seriously and intend to shed light on this issue. In addition to our internal efforts, a meeting between the city of Sainte-Catherine and Kahnawake officials is also scheduled to take place in the very near future.”

“It’s going to take everybody to solve these issues. Nobody is going to be able to do it in silos but we need to share that information and work together,” the chief explained.

“But we need to build those relationships first. The environment ministry, in general, in sort of the consultation end, which I am involved in for other projects and things like that… needs a lot of work.”

Chief Diabo emphasized that the relationship with Quebec also needs improvement in order to better address environmental issues together.

“We have to clean up. There is a push now. The community is taking matters into their own hands and we are cleaning up our community,” Kerry Diabo added.

However, he said he believes that currently, not enough is being done to remediate the situation.

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