In The Tell-Tale Heart, a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the writer reminds readers that choices made in the past can, when least expected, come knocking like a jilted lover or forgotten old bones.
The past is where people receive 100 per cent of their 20/20 hindsight. Looking back, what is seen is not always nice to look at, but, in the case of the Squatter’s Creek landfill site, that’s just how it may end up when a portion of the site is transformed into parkland.
On the old Max Cameron school property, pipes installed to ventilate methane gas can be seen. Now they are cold and don’t smell like methane anymore. They are one of the last visible remnants, aside from sections where Squatter’s Creek itself is still exposed, of the decision made in the 1950s to fill in the creek bed with garbage.
It is a local example of a much larger challenge nationally and internationally, to clean up waste humans make. What at the time people thought were legitimate solutions to problems they faced, are now known to have been mistakes. They are mistakes that are not easily fixed.
In addition to old dump sites on land, there are hundreds of sites in rivers and oceans across BC, across Canada and in international waters around the globe. Teck Resources in Trail, BC, is facing law suits from several first nations groups demanding the company make reparation after dumping pollution into the Columbia River for decades. There are numerous registered unexploded ordnance sites where unused materials were dumped into the ocean by the Canadian military after WWII. People are left with the prospect of doing what they can to make the best of the situation. The sins of the fathers provide a valuable proving ground to measure commitment and perspective when it comes to ethical use of the environment and how far people are willing to go to protect it.
History is rife with examples of this lack of critical thinking. Stories of large-scale industrial waste abound. But it wasn’t uncommon in households to see bottles of diazanon and containers of DDT in kitchen cupboards under the sink, not too far from where food and dishes were kept.
The question of sustainability sometimes means taking a hard look in the mirror. Whether on land or in the water, these sites are testament to thinking back then. Where once people stood with eyes closed while bottles and cans and barrels were dumped into a collective site, now they can measure the results. Eyes are open and people are asking the question, “How do we fix this?”