Canadian Customs officials have increased border checks searching for illegal U.S. garbage.
Quebec's low charge for disposal in landfills has attracted companies in New York State. While dumping a ton of solid wastes in a New York landfill costs more than $100, a site in Montreal only charges $12.50.
"We have tariffs at the dump sites that make it very attractive for people living in the New York area to send us their solid garbage," said Pierre Paradis, Quebec's environment minister. "It costs about one-tenth as much to dump garbage here as it does in New York. We need to charge more."
As a result of pressure in the garbage trade, dozens of illegal, unregulated dumps have sprung up in recent years in the Eastern Townships, an area south of Montreal. In 1988, the Quebec government reacted with a law that making it illegal to bring solid waste in Quebec unless it is destined for a recycling plant. But Paradis said 26 inspectors are not enough to enforce the law.
"The regulation is good, but it's clear we don't have the means to apply it," he said.
Earlier, a Quebec news agency reported that in November, the All City Paper Co. of Brooklyn hired a truck owned by Fibre Can-Am of Montreal to transport 30 tons of medical waste to the Miron Quarry, a Montreal landfill site. The waste reportedly was hidden in paper destined for recycling, and permits accompanying the truck claimed it contained only paper.
Many similar truckloads of waste have been turned away at the site, a Montreal official said.
While agreeing that the price incentive attracted American garbage, Paradis said the federal government was not properly screening trucks crossing the border. International borders come under federal jurisdiction.
"If you stop it from coming in in the first place, you solve the problem. That's the job of the federal government," he said.
Lucien Bouchard, the federal environment minister, was wary of raising the alarm on the matter and said he was awaiting a report due shortly.
He recalled the situation in 1989 when reports had claimed that chemical waste from the United States was being dissolved in gasoline, shipped to Canada and used in automobiles by unsuspecting drivers.
"It's obvious that we are going to do everything we can to deal with this kind of problem, but we've got to be careful," he said. "I remember very well what happened last year when there were allegations suggesting that there was traffic in illegally contaminated oil.
"We turned Canada upside down; we closed border crossings, and after more than 1,000 tests being taken across the country and millions of dollars spent, we did not find a drop of contaminated oil," he said.
The incident spurred demands that Canada ban all garbage from the United States.
"We're having garbage problems that are atrocious. . . . The frontiers are the responsibility of the federal government, and we don't have enough room for our own garbage. How far are we going to let our buddy-buddy situation with the U.S. interfere with our own rights?" asked Shirley Maheu, a Liberal Party member of Parliament.