They could see the bright-red blood in the ditch as soon as they drove up to the Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry store.
“It was such a strange colour it didn’t register at first that it was water,” Roxanna Froese said about the poultry-plant spill incident in Yarrow, that her family witnessed on March 22.
“It was so vibrant red we could see it from the road.”
But when Froese came closer, the smell was so overpowering, it made her gag.
Froese happened to be there as a customer, but as engagement manager for Watershed Watch Salmon Society, she could immediately see the situation was also a serious threat to the local waterways, the fish, the community, the ecosystem.
“The water ran clear beside the pipe, and then blood and solids could be seen sloshing out,” she said.
Froese snapped a few photos, and shot video to document the alarming details.
They followed the contaminated water to the source, worried that the ditch could be connected to the newly restored Browne Creek Wetlands nearby, and the Vedder River down the line.
“With so much bacteria and toxins in that mix we are concerned that it could impact nearby drinking water sources, animals and people, and of course fish,” Froese said.
Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry officials say the spill was caused by a “blockage in a vacuum pump” resulting in a tank overflow.
“Unfortunately we did have an incident at the plant,” general manager Joe Falk said.
It was a vacuum tank with blood that overfilled into a drain basin, which led to the ditch along Simmons Road, he said.
The volume of waste containing blood and other byproducts was estimated at 250 to 500 litres.
“An employee immediately shut down the flow once it was noticed,” Falk said, adding they have since hired environmental consultant Nova Pacific Environmental to assist with remediation.
“We are taking this very seriously as well as taking full responsibility. We will ensure we follow all direction from the City and Ministry of Environment as we work through this.”
City of Chilliwack spokesperson Liana Wiebe said staff was alerted quickly jumping into action with crews to throw hay bales into the ditch as a containment measure.
“Staff from our Environmental Services and Operations Departments facilitated initial response efforts to help contain the released material, including placement of hay bales in the watercourse near the source to help capture some of the material, and a vacuum truck was brought in to remove contents from catchbasin sumps, and collect materials from the watercourse with approval from a provincial officer.”
Provincial Environment officials, with Environment and Climate Change Canada, BC Ministry of Agriculture, local First Nations, City of Chilliwack, and Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry, are working together to “minimize impacts to the environment and monitor downstream water quality.”
Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry’s environmental consultant will oversee the remaining cleanup and sampling requirements.
The discharge was “a result of a spill and is not an authorized method of waste disposal,” according to the March 22 statement from the BC Ministry of Environment, as the lead agency.
A few days later that troubling red-coloured ditch was running clear, and the material mostly gone.
“I think what people forget is just how much salmon sacrifice for us,” Froese concluded.
“They give up their lives to feed people, animal, and plants, and if we don’t respect that cycle, we stand to lose a vital part of our community.”
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