According to an internal Ministry of Environment email, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, there are significant gaps and deficiencies in B.C.’s capacity to deal with toxic spills.
The email from Graham Knox, head of B.C.’s Environmental Emergency Program, outlines weaknesses in contractor training, data collection and monitoring, restoration, and compensation for loss of public use in the wake of a toxic spill.
Knox identifies examples for all of these areas of concern, from contractors lacking the skills to properly clean up coal-mine tailings released into the Tulameen River to the lack of “clear rules and guidelines” to direct the cleanup of Goldstream River after the fuel-truck spill.
We in Shawnigan Lake are fighting to prevent a contaminated soil site in our watershed, which provides drinking water for more than 7,000 people. The Ministry of Environment granted the permit to South Island Aggregates to dump five million tonnes of soil contaminated with a long list of highly toxic chemicals directly into our watershed.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District, the Shawnigan Residents Association and others appealed the permit.
According to Knox, the Ministry lacks the “significant staff resources” required even to document the hundreds of spills that happen each year, let alone respond to the environmental damage that is happening in our province.
While the residents of Shawnigan await the decision of the Environmental Appeal Board, we know that we must stand firm in our determination to prevent this toxic site in our watershed — the future of our community depends on it.