The Quebec government approved a cleanup plan on Wednesday for a Pointe-Claire warehouse that has been illegally storing thousands of litres of PCB-contaminated oil for over a decade.
“Whatever we do is going to be done as per regulations,” said Harry Baikowitz, a chemist hired by property owner Reliance Power Equipment to organize the cleanup of the site.
The company submitted the proposal to the provincial environment ministry on Tuesday, Baikowitz said, and it was approved Wednesday morning.
“It’s a systematic way of dealing with the product on the back of the land to have it taken away properly, to get rid of the transformers properly, get rid of the water properly,” Baikowitz said.
Reliance plans to load the remaining oil into barrels and move it into a secure room in the warehouse as soon as Quebec authorizes the company to start moving the oil, he added.
“If I move from A to B, I’ve got to tell (the province). When I’m going to move all of these containers of water and oil, I’ve got to make them aware of when it’s going and where it’s going,” he said.
The company has contracted to a construction firm to build the storage area, which will have a sealed concrete floor and raised barriers to contain spills, Baikowitz said.
The company also plans to set up surveillance cameras and firefighting equipment inside the building, he added.
In a fire, PCBs can be converted to dioxins and furans, which are highly toxic and can be carcinogenic.
The oil-filled barrels will be trucked to disposal sites, and any transformers containing PCBs will be dismantled and cleaned, Baikowitz said.
Only some of the oil contains PCBs in high concentration, he said. That oil will be moved to a treatment facility in Swan Hills, AB.
The Alberta facility is the only site in Canada set up to safely destroy the liquid, which must be incinerated at a high temperature.
“It’s extremely expensive – that is the bulk of the expense of cleaning up this property,” Baikowitz said.
Oil containing PCBs in concentrations of less than 50 parts per million is not subject to federal regulations and can be recycled or disposed of as uncontaminated oil.
A scrapyard has agreed to buy the old copper-based transformers piled up on the property after Reliance dismantles them and removes any remaining PCBs, Baikowitz said.
Cleanup will begin soon, he said, but the exact date depends on when the province grants permission to start pumping oil from tanks behind the warehouse.
With the site secured and the PCBs contained, the chemicals should pose no danger to the public, Baikowitz said.
Direct exposure to large amounts of PCBs may cause nervous system problems, severe skin problems and a variety of other health problems, Health Canada says.
The U.S. EPA describes PCBs as a potential carcinogen, and Health Canada notes that some studies show a link between PCBs and certain types of cancer.
But according to Health Canada, PCB-related health problems are usually caused by direct contact with the chemical, either in a spill or by eating fish that have ingested PCBs.
Baikowitz said that the site posed no imminent danger, and that he hoped the provincial and federal authorities could reassure the public.
“If I was the federal government and I had people who were that concerned, why not send a doctor or two … plus a toxicologist, to go on the radio or TV and say this is not dangerous?” Baikowitz asked.
“They go ahead and make it into a political ball, and that doesn’t help anyone,” he said.