From The Gazette

Pointe-Claire

Quebec takes over cleanup of PCB stockpile in Pointe Claire

  • Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet, fourth from left, tours a PCB storage facility in Pointe Claire with ministry officials and Mayor Bill McMurchie, third from right, on Tuesday Sept. 17, 2013.
    Quebec Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet, fourth from left, tours a PCB storage facility in Pointe Claire with ministry officials and Mayor Bill McMurchie, third from right, on Tuesday Sept. 17, 2013.
    Photo credit: Phil Carpenter, The Gazette

Quebec’s environment ministry has taken control of the Reliance Power Equipment Ltd. and begun plans to clean up the site after the Pointe-Claire company failed to ensure PCBs illegally stored on its property were being held safely.

Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet told reporters Tuesday morning that the provincial government will secure the site immediately and over the next 48 hours begin plans to execute an estimated $3.5-million plan to dispose of thousands of litres of PCB-contaminated oil to a special facility in Swan Hills, Alberta.

Blanchet said ministry inspectors visited the Hymus Blvd. company on the weekend and determined that nothing had been done since Reliance submitted to the provincial government on Aug. 30 its plan to clean up the PCB-contaminated waste it had been storing illegally for more than a decade.

The provincial government had given the company a Sept. 13 deadline to secure the toxic waste.

“The site was not even locked, anyone could have entered,” Blanchet said. “Therefore, as of now we are taking control of the site to assure it is locked, secure and decontaminated.”

“I’m saying this once more, the company had the obligation to secure the site and decontaminate and many of the obligations were not respected.”

Security fencing and camera surveillance equipment would be installed immediately, Blanchet said, as he stood in front of the building and just off to the side of a chain-link fence that separates the company’s yard from the street.

Blanchet estimated the cleanup at about $3.5 million but, noted costs could increase once ministry officials had had a chance to evaluate the full extent of the work, including the removal of a yet-to-be-determined amount of contaminated soil to another disposal company.
Blanchet said the Quebec government will place a lien on the building and assets of Reliance but, admitted he was “not very confident,” the government “will get all the money back,” thereby, leaving provincial taxpayers on the hook.

On Monday, Harry Baikowitz, a Montreal chemist hired as a consultant by Reliance, said firm had obtained cost estimates last Thursday that totalled between $7 and $8 million for the decontamination of the site.

The estimates covered the removal of PCB-contaminated oil to Swan Hills, Alta., the disposal of electrical transformers to a scrapyard in Ontario and the removal and transport of contaminated soil to a Quebec City company.

Baikowitz said he instructed Birdie Marshall, the 83-year-old widow who has been the company’s chief officer since the 2002 death of her husband, Max Marshall, to send a registered letter to the provincial government on Friday if the company did not have sufficient funds to carry out the work.

On Tuesday, Pointe-Claire Mayor Bill McMurchie said he was pleased that the provincial government has now taken control of the cleanup and it is no longer being left to Reliance, a company with which the city has had a contentious history, including a long legal battle.

“The file today is where the file should be, it’s in the minister’s hands,” said McMurchie, expressing his relief and standing alongside Blanchet throughout the news conference.
McMurchie said Pointe-Claire citizens, especially those residents living in the immediate vicinity of Reliance, have been concerned since the public was made aware late last month of the illegal stockpile of PCBs and that there had been a spill in the company’s yard in March.

“We are happy with the announcement,” said McMurchie.

“Once the PCBs are removed it will become an industrial landsite,” said McMurchie. “The council is very satisfied … they have assured us that the site will be cleaned up as fast as possible.”

Neither Blanchet nor McMurchie, however, would comment on how thousands of litres of illegal PCB-contaminated oil had been left to languish for more than a decade in an unsecure site in an industrial park near suburban homes, daycares and schools and how nothing had been done about it by provincial and municipal government officials.

Blanchet said questions about existing government regulations, both municipal and provincial, remain part of the ongoing investigation as do questions about Reliance’s culpability and that of any companies that may be implicated as having used Reliance as an illegal dumping site for toxic waste.

Criminal charges remain a possibility, said Blanchet.

“I don’t believe there was any malice,” the minister said of Reliance officials, but, added “that does not prevent somebody from being held responsible in front of the law.”

ccornacchia@montrealgazette.com
Twitter:cornacchiaGAZ

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