Keele Valley Landfill,1983-2002
Toronto Life, December 2002
by Matt Beam
   For almost two decades, Toronto’s waste (28 million tons in all) has been trucked to a pestilential pit at Major Mackenzie and Keele. Now that Keele Valley has reached maximum capacity, its role as an active dump is coming to a close (it will receive its last load on New Year’s Eve). But this is not even the beginning of the end for the 929-acre property. Think of its life as a play in three acts.
   Act I, 1983-1992. In its youth, the dump was just a dump, environmentally hostile, ugly, a site whose 125-foot-deep gravel pit was gradually filled with unsorted, stinking miscellanea. Every day, a precession of garbage trucks would enter from Keele to offload outmoded refrigerators, crags of dusty drywall and can of glutinous, petrifying paint. Amid the usual detritus could be found less every day castoffs: jettisoned snowmobile prototypes, an undetonated World War II mortar bomb (requiring attendance by the explosives squad) and, once, human remains (those of a murdered woman). Leachate—rainwater filtered through the garbage—made the mounds collapse periodically, causing exhalations of methane, giving off its pungent rotten-egg, hydrogen sulfate stench.
   Act II, 1992-2002. Significant aesthetic and environmental improvements were made over the past 10 years. Hazardous waste was separated from good, clean junk and diverted from the dump proper. Hydroseed, a slurry of seed and fertilizer, was sprayed on the layers of soil spread atop the rubbish, transforming the massive heaps into rolling, grassy hills. The pernicious leachate was slurped up by perforated pipes and sent to a sewage plant in faraway Pickering. Methane escaped less often, because most of it was pumped to a power plant at the southern end of the site, where it has been used to produce electricity for 20, 000 homes. Despite this last improvement, wafts of the gases still reached the populous nearby subdivisions, prompting 30, 000 residents to launch a class action in 1997. Although unsuccessful, the suit helped convince city council to truck our garbage to distant Michigan.
   Act III, 2003-2103. The final phase in the dump’s life begins this New Year’s Day. Slowly the landfill and surrounding buffers zone will mutate into what the planners and politicians call “passive recreational land.” In a year, the last portion of the pit will be covered with four feet of clay, some topsoil and more hydroseed. New soccer fields and baseball diamonds will be laid out on the north side of the property by 2005, and an 18-hole golf course, doglegging around the southeastern corner will open next year. Monitoring will continue for at least 30 years, but it will take another century of detox before the site cleans itself up. Just think of it as our gift to generations as yet unborn.

© Copyright 2002 Toronto Life
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