Hundreds of litres of toxic oil spilled in West Vancouver waterway

Oil containment booms and caution tape line a contaminated creek near Ambleside Park Monday. - Todd Coyne photo
Oil containment booms and caution tape line a contaminated creek near Ambleside Park Monday.
— image credit: Todd Coyne photo

Hundreds of litres of industrial oil containing toxic PCBs spilled into a West Vancouver waterway Sunday, polluting a salmon creek and duck pond, after a BC Hydro utility pole was toppled in the wind.

The environmental crisis began when a large tree fell near the intersection of Keith Road and Taylor Way, taking with it an adjacent utility pole and power lines, and halting all traffic in the area into the evening.

But before hydro crews had restored power at the scene, three large drum-shaped transformers mounted on the fallen pole had broken open near a storm drain, leaking 320 litres of transformer oil "which traveled through storm sewers and affected Sway'wey Creek and the duck pond at Ambleside Park" more than a kilometre and a half away, according to the District of West Vancouver's acting spokesman Jeff McDonald.

"Unfortunately, it appears that the creek and pond are affected by the oil, but so far bird life in the pond is not affected," McDonald said Monday morning.

On Monday afternoon, private clean-up crews had strung up hundreds of metres of yellow caution tape where the oily water was pooling near Marine Drive and Pound Road and had laid containment booms and absorbent pads across culverts and marshlands in an effort to stem the flow of the pollutant.

Both West Van district and BC Hydro confirmed with The Outlook Monday afternoon that toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were present in the transformer oil and found within the spill.

"We tested the oil content and the report came back this afternoon that there's low levels of PCB," said Donna McGeachie, BC Hydro's community relations manager for the Lower Mainland.

While neither Hydro nor the district said they believe the spill poses any health risks to area residents, danger to wildlife is more likely as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are toxic to fish, birds and mammals, especially around wetlands, according to Environment Canada.

"We've contained it all to where it's now away from public access," McGeachie said. "There's some ducks in the area but we've been working with the District of West Vancouver, just in case any of the oil got to the duck pond that's down there, that we'd prohibit any ducks from landing in the area."

However, dozens of ducks were on the Ambleside duck pond Monday afternoon and dozens more on the shore, seemingly oblivious to the potential danger in the water.

The import, manufacture and sale of PCBs has been illegal in Canada since 1977 and the release of environmental PCBs has been illegal since 1985. However, federal law allows PCB equipment owners, such as electrical power companies, to continue using the equipment until the end of its service life.

The soccer fields at Ambleside Park were closed down for clean-up and remediation work Monday evening and will remain closed until BC Hydro gives the go-ahead to reopen, McDonald said.

The booms and pads will remain on the area waterways for a few days, McGeachie said, until it's determined the oil has been eliminated.

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