Most of Wilmonica Van Bibber’s family is dead.
Many succumbed to cancer. Van Bibber suspects it’s because of the water they drank.
They lived in Champagne. The small village’s water woes are well-known: in 2006, its wells were closed after the groundwater was deemed to be radioactive.
Drinking water is now trucked in from Haines Junction. But Van Bibber worries that another source of pollution has gone unaddressed: the local dump.
She’s worried that runoff from it is flowing into the nearby Dezadeash River.
People have always depended on the river for water while hunting and trapping. They still do.
A study done this year showed underground water flows past the dump, to the river. For Van Bibber, that’s reason enough to shut the dump immediately. She’s upset nothing’s happened yet.
But government officials say the jury’s still out, until a well-monitoring study by EBA Engineering Consultants is complete. It should be ready in a month, said Wes Wirth, manager of operations for Community Services.
If it’s true that runoff is getting in the river, the territory will take steps to make it stop, said Wirth.
It’s not soon enough for Van Bibber. It’s been five years since a study, paid for by the First Nation, found all manner of nasty chemicals in local wells. A more recent study in 2009 found more of the same.
While nobody is supposed to drink well water now, this, to her, is proof enough the dump is polluting the groundwater, some of which discharges into the river.
She doesn’t know how else traces of paraffin, antifreeze and cooking oil would get into the wells – as well as several nasty chemicals that are considered possible carcinogens.
In all, 65 known contaminants were flagged in the two reports.
Van Bibber notes how vehicles and fridges continue to pile up at the site. This waste is periodically hauled away, said Wirth.
“The metal from that site probably hasn’t been hauled away for a couple years,” he conceded. “But we plan to do it this year.”
The runoff is a concern to the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation, said Terry Rufiange-Holway, municipal director for the First Nation. It may be spreading contaminants downstream, he said.
Residents are also unhappy with the territory’s weekly practice of burning trash at the dump. But the government has pledged to end garbage burning across the territory by the end of the year.
The plan is to turn Champagne’s dump into a transfer station. Trash would be held there for short periods before being hauled to Haines Junction.
But Van Bibber wants action now.
“We’re dying, and nobody’s listening to us. That’s how it feels.”
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