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Sewage Dumps, St Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada

Government-approved raw sewage dumps compromise water quality and put species at risk against the wishes of local Mohawk and Francophone communities.

The St Lawrence Estuary (SLE) is linked to multiple cities including Quebec City, Longueuil and Montreal, and borders on the United States. The region serves as a site of high-scale international trade and industrial production which places the estuary under immense economic pressure. Industrial practices place the ecosystem of the estuary at risk to multiple sources of waste pollution, including marine vessel noise, chemical discharge and spills. In addition, the municipal governments of the cities mentioned above have periodically approved untreated sewage dumps into the river when pipe repairs are needed. Government officials have said that the billions of litres of raw sewage dumped into the St Lawrence have no negative impact on the ecosystem, despite a lack of comprehensive evidence to support that claim. The sewage dumps have not been proven to be an immediate cause for concern, but ecological consequences typically manifest throughout longer periods of time. A visible consequence of mismanagement of the estuary is the continuous population decline of the St Lawrence Beluga whale. This species has suffered the historical impacts of overhunting throughout European settlement and now suffers from reproductive deficiency caused by industrial chemical pollution. The raw sewage dumps that this project describes have been conducted within the last three years, because of this recency, there is a lack of research available to prove the direct impacts on ecological functions. However, the bioaccumulative effects of now-banned chemicals, such as Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), show us that species and ecosystems suffer from long-term consequences of poor waste management. Sewage contains harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, that can make

humans very sick. When sewage is released into a waterbody the bacteria

in the sewage take oxygen out of the water which can kill fish and other

aquatic life. The solids suspended in sewage can turn water murky,

further impairing the ability of fish to breath and making it difficult

for them to see.

Sewage also contains diverse range of

contaminates that we don’t want in our waterways. There are nitrates and

phosphates that encourage algae growth, heavy metals that can

bioaccumulate in fish, as well as micro plastics, pharmaceuticals and

whatever else people and industry (irresponsibly) put down their drain.

A fundamental aspect of this issue is that decisions on waste management are made exclusively by municipalities, without adequate consultation of local stakeholders and Indigenous communities who are impacted by the resulting ecological damage. This reflects a greater structural power imbalance that has been formed through long histories of colonial conquest and exploitation. Some of the visible impacts of these processes are the widespread displacement of Indigenous communities; loss of traditional knowledge, practices, and livelihood; and loss of biodiversity in the St Lawrence ecosystem. In 2015 the sewage dump in Montreal was protested by both Indigenous communities and other activists. An online petition garnered over 95,000 signatures while Kahnawake Mohawks blocked an access ramp to the Mercier Bridge to protest the sewage dump into the St. Lawrence River and held a railway protest. The Federal Government also also ordered for the city to put the plan on hold while Environment Canada conducted an independent scientific review. In the end the city dumped 4.9 billion liters, down from the initial proposed 8 billion.
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sewage Dumps, St Lawrence River, Quebec, Canada
State or province:Quebec
Location of conflict:Montreal, Longueuil, Quebec City
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict: 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Chemical products
Biological resources
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details:

Documented dumping of untreated sewage into the St Lawrence Estuary:

See more
Level of Investment:2.2 million CAD for Montreal Dump
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/10/2015
Relevant government actors:Local municipalities of Quebec City, Montreal, and Longueuil
Federal Government
Environment Canada
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Mohawk Council of Kawnawakhe
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
online petition that garnered over 95,000 signatures; activists and concerned citizens participated in a clean-up of the shores around the Old Port – a symbolic gesture meant to say “we don’t want any more waste in our river.”; Kahnawake Mohawks blocked an access ramp to the Mercier Bridge to protest the sewage dump into the St. Lawrence River.
Impacts of the project
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of livelihood
Other socio-economic impactsLoss of eco-tourism potential.
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Development of alternatives:Critics claimed that Montreal had years to come up with another plan which could have entailed building a back-up interceptor for example, amongst other options.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Sources and Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

The Fisheries Act, specifically the The Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Guise, S. D., Martineau, D., Beland, P., & Fournier, M. (1995). Possible mechanisms of action of environmental contaminants on st. lawrence beluga whales (delphinapterus leucas). Environmental Health Perspectives, 103, 73. doi:10.2307/3432415

Pendleton, R. M., Hoeinghaus, D. J., Gomes, L. C., & Agostinho, A. A. (2015). Trophic downgrading results in complex ecosystem dynamics in experimental tropical floodplain food webs. Hydrobiologia, 760(1), 15-28. doi:10.1007/s10750-015-2299-9

Simond, A. E., Houde, M., Lesage, V., & Verreault, J. (2017). Temporal trends of PBDEs and emerging flame retardants in belugas from the st. lawrence estuary (canada) and comparisons with minke whales and canadian arctic belugas. Environmental Research, 156, 494-504. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2017.03.058

Martineau, D., Lemberger, K., Dallaire, A., Labelle, P., Lipscomb, T. P., Michel, P., & Mikaelian, I. (2002). Cancer in wildlife, a case study: Beluga from the st. lawrence estuary, québec, canada. Environmental Health Perspectives, 110(3), 285-292. doi:10.1289/ehp.02110285

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

CBC "Longueuil to dump 160 million litres of raw sewage into St. Lawrence River"
[click to view]

CBC "Quebec City to dump 46 million litres of sewage waste into St. Lawrence River"
[click to view]

CBC "Flushgate a success but lacked 'social acceptability:' Denis Coderre "
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

"Call of the Baby Beluga"
[click to view]

"Kahnawake Mohawks hold railway protest against planned sewage dump"
[click to view]

"Your guide to Montreal's hidden Indigenous character"
[click to view]

Other documents

Avoid all contact with water photo from CBC:
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rae Costain, Ariane Lecompte, Juli Oshada & Zoe Martin | University of Victoria
Last update29/12/2018
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