Two B.C. companies fined for contaminating rivers during work projects

Site C dam
Artist rendering of the Site C Clean Energy Project in British Columbia. Photo Credit: Province of British Columbia, CC BY-NC 2.0

The Provincial Court of British Columbia has issued fines in relation to guilty pleas for two separate incidents where companies illegally discharged ammonia and contaminated drainage water into the Fraser and Peace Rivers.

The most substantial fine totals $1.1 million to address Peace River Hydro Partners discharge of 3,300 m3 of contaminated drainage water into the Peace River in September of 2018 near Fort St. John. 

The project involves the construction of a dam and hydroelectric generating station. The hydro company was responsible for water management infrastructure at the Site C Clean Energy Project. During heavy rainfall, there was insufficient available capacity to treat additional drainage, and a mix of treated and untreated drainage was released into the Peace River, which contains some 33 species of fish. The water had a low pH and a high concentration of metals, including a concentration of aluminum that was acutely lethal to fish, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The unauthorized release led to a charge under the federal Fisheries Act. 

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The second fine recently handed down by the B.C. court involves Arctic Pearl Ice and Cold Storage Ltd., which was fined $700,000 for a November 2017 incident near Richmond, B.C.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) enforcement officers and Transport Canada inspectors initiated a joint investigation after an individual called for emergency medical assistance.

The investigation revealed that a large quantity of contaminated ammonia was removed from a fishing vessel in Richmond during maintenance of the refrigeration system. The ammonia was transferred into a high-pressure storage tank on shore and later transported by truck to the company’s warehouse at the direction of one of the company’s owners.

Later that month, a garbage disposal company employee arrived at the warehouse to collect waste and “became ill from the strong smell of ammonia,” according to ECCC officials. Ammonia may be fatal if inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or swallowed. It causes severe skin and eye burns, and may cause glaucoma, cataracts, and blindness.

The waste collector called for help and responding authorities arrived to find the storage tank in the back of a truck releasing ammonia into a fish tote of water. The contaminated water was overflowing into a storm drain, which flows into Bath Slough and discharges into the fish-bearing Fraser River. This was a violation of subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act.

ECCC said that experts estimated that approximately 1,227 lbs of ammonia were released into the environment. Approximately 929 lbs of it were released into the storm sewer, and the remainder vaporized into the air.

Investigating officials learned that Arctic Pearl Ice and Cold Storage Ltd. was quoted $19,000 plus taxes and freight by a refrigeration contractor to properly dispose of the contaminated ammonia, but declined.

The investigation also revealed that the contaminated ammonia storage tank was not built to the required specifications for the transport of dangerous goods. This led to a charge under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992. The tank did not have any shipping documents or safety marks as required, nor did the driver have a Transportation of Dangerous Goods Training Certificate. No individuals involved had the required training in the handling, transportation, and storage of ammonia, reported the investigating officials.  

The transport charges added an additional $55,000 to the fine, for a total amount of $755,000.

The company was also ordered to pay $8,477 in restitution to the City of Richmond, representing the cost of the Richmond Fire Department’s response to the incident.

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