An unknown quantity of potentially dangerous material was dumped in the Robin Hood Bay Waste Management Facility last week.
The city became aware of the problem sometime Friday night and was forced to shut down the facility Saturday.
This proved a headache for many residents, as Saturday is a busy day for the regional landfill.
But Paul Mackey, director of public works for the City of St. John’s, said the city had no choice but to make the call it did.
“Unfortunately, in a situation like this you don’t know where, and how much and so on,” said Mackey.
“So you have to make the worst-case assumption that all your equipment was in contact with it and the whole tipping base for the last two or three days ... has to be treated as if it was exposed. That’s the only safe way to deal with it.”
The material came from a demolition site in Mount Pearl. Service NL became aware sometime late last week the site may have included dangerous materials (most likely asbestos) and shut down all work at the building.
As of Saturday, samples had been sent for testing to determine if the waste is dangerous.
But by that time, several dump trucks full of material had been taken to Robin Hood Bay and buried.
St. John’s had to hire a specialist to come in on Saturday to deal with the situation.
All the air filters in the facility had to be changed and the heavy machinery had to be vacuumed out and pressure-washed. The crews doing the work had to wear protective gear.
The material was buried under tons of other waste.
The crews had to identify where it was buried, wet the ground to prevent dust particles and then pour gravel over it.
The process essentially seals it off.
This is the first time anything like this has happened at Robin Hood Bay, said Mackey.
“I don’t recall anything of this scale. Occasionally we will get material that shows up on the scale in a truck and, if its suspect for any reason, we would question the origin.
“If there is any question about hazardous waste we would do the inquiries before we will allow it to dump. This particular one just sort of got by and unfortunately this went on for a couple of days before it came to light.”
The city announced Sunday afternoon that remediation of the landfill was now complete. Also, the facility will open to residential dropoffs today to make up for Saturday.