PCBs to be removed by Christmas

Anthony Abbondanza
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Pointe Claire site to undergo decontamination as early as spring, says mayor

PCBs present no immediate danger to nearby residents, unless a fire exposes the chemical into the air; or a spill seeps through the soil, contaminating the groundwater, according to Yves Gelinas, a professor in Concordia University’s department of chemistry.

All Hazardous materials at the Reliance Power Equipment Ltd. facility, which made news in August for illegally storing electrical transformers containing polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and ignoring several calls to remove the contaminants, will be removed by Christmas, Pointe Claire Mayor Morris Trudeau announced last week during a news conference at city hall.

According to Trudeau, all contaminants deemed highly dangerous at the Hymus Boulevard site have already been removed.

“We were very fortunate because this could easily have turned into a catastrophic situation given that polychlorinated biphenyls had been illegally stored on the site for many years,” said the recently-elected mayor.

Pointe Claire’s administration informed Quebec environmental officials of a significant leak of 800-1,100 litres of oil containing PCBs at the Hymus Boulevard facility in March 2013.

Yet, according to the-then mayor Bill McMurchie, he wasn’t in the loop until the city opened the file August 26. It’s not uncommon for the administration to exclusively handle these types of issues without involving council McMurchie told The Chronicle in September.

Since then, workers specialized in removing hazardous materials have been emptying the transformers, disposing of containers filled with oily water and contaminated soil, and removing other contaminated liquids from transformers stored outside and barrels inside the building over the last month.

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Yves-Francois Blanchet announced a new government program during the news conference.

All known companies - of which there are approximately 60 in the province– harbouring PCBs  will undergo inspection in the succeeding months, said Blanchet. 

“If the alarming situation we experienced here this past summer has resulted in the implementation of a new inspection and control program that will protect the health and ensure the safety of our citizens, not only in Pointe Claire, but everywhere in Quebec, we are obviously very happy about that,” said Trudeau.

The mayor told The Chronicle during a phone interview this morning that had this government initiative been “in place two years ago, Reliance would have been discovered.”

Pointe Claire has closely followed the decontamination process since September and elected officials passed a resolution last month to improve inspection measures for industrial buildings.

The city has asked the Montreal fire department to carry out yearly inspections by prevention experts – an initiative backed by the environment minister.

Since 1977, the import, manufacture, and sale of PCBs have been illegal in Canada. Furthermore, the release of the chemical into the environment was made illegal in 1985. Canadian legislation did, however, allow owners using PCBs to continue using the equipment until the end of its service life.

The health risk associated with PCBs depends on the level of toxic compounds in the chemical, as it doesn’t break down instantaneously.

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Organizations: Reliance Power Equipment, The Chronicle

Geographic location: Pointe Claire, Hymus Boulevard, Quebec Montreal Canada

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