McMurchie wasn’t aware of Pointe Claire firm’s illegal storage of electrical transformers containing Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) until Aug. 26.
© Photo Keith McAuliffe
Reliance Power Equipment Ltd. has illegally stored PCB-contaminated equipment in their Hymus Boulevard facility as early as 1998.
The city of Pointe Claire’s administration informed Quebec environmental officials of a significant leak of 800-1,100 litres of oil containing PCBs at a Hymus Boulevard facility in March 2013.
Yet, according to 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 said the mayor.
“The city was informed of the problem as early as March. We reported to environmental authorities… Our technical people at the time of the spill were under impression it was being handled by the department of environment,” said McMurchie, who’s retiring in November.
The mayor wasn’t the only person left in the dark as residents were made aware of the nearby presence of hazardous materials five months after the oil spill.
“As far as I’m concerned, the presence of the material has a dangerous element,” said the mayor. “In the judgement of the department of environment, it did not constitute an imminent danger.”
On Friday, Reliance Power Equipment finally accepted a Quebec ordinance, promising to rid the site of PCBs. The company had previously missed a midnight deadline of Wednesday, despite the 24-hour security patrol – commissioned by the ministry – to ensure Reliance’s safe removal of the Canadian-banned substance without issue.
According to Environment Minister Yves-Francois Blanchet, the company was told on numerous occasions since April to remove the hazardous materials. Shortly after, Reliance sent what was later deemed by the ministry as an insufficient plan of action
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 city was informed of the problem as early as March. We reported to environmental authorities… Our technical people at the time of the spill were under impression it was being handled by the department of environment,” Mayor Bill McMurchie
Reliance repairs, reconditions, modifies, and resells used electrical power equipment to businesses around the globe.
PCBs: a real health risk?
The concern is based on the level of toxic compounds in the chemical, as PCBs do not break down instantaneously. Therefore the chemical can remain active in air, water and soil for extensive periods of time.
According to Yves Gelinas, a professor in Concordia University’s department of chemistry, there is 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. Human consumption of water, Gelinas warned, comes from the St. Lawrence River.
“Some media and officials may sound like they are overblowing the danger, but the risk is real and multi-faceted,” said Gelinas. “I certainly wouldn't like the idea of sleeping near a stockpile of PCB-contaminated oil managed by a group of people who don't seem to care.”
And while Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s office for science and society, agreed that PCBs shouldn’t be taken lightly, he asserted the population is not facing any health risk.
“The chance that anyone would suffer any adverse effect that could be linked to the stored PCBs in my view is essentially zero,” said Schwarcz.