Attempts to create a safer workplace and reduce risks of releases are as old as mankind. The Code of Hammurabi from about 1750 BCE addressed building codes, and Lloyds of London’s first registry addressed safety and risk dating back to 1834.
Today, we have entire disciplines devoted to reducing these risks. We also have laws and regulations with respect to chemical handling, management, and disposal.
Through modern safety and risk management practices, we have greatly reduced human health and environmental risks. Companies spend a lot of time and money to reduce risks and avoid incidents. With that said, releases still happen and, when they do, there are potential penalties. And, sometimes, the fine isn’t the result of an actual incident, as we discuss below.
Syncrude Release Results in Nearly $3 million Fine
Earlier this year, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) announced a substantial fine against Syncrude Canada Ltd. According to the ECCC, “Syncrude pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta to one count of violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. Syncrude Canada Ltd. was sentenced to pay a fine of $1.775 million, which will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund.” Syncrude also pleaded guilty to one charge under a separate Act, the Provincial Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, which resulted in an additional fine of $975,000.
At issue was an incident in August 2015. The ECCC states “…wildlife enforcement officers received a report of 31 deceased great blue herons that were exposed to bitumen at the Syncrude Canada Ltd. Mildred Lake facility. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s investigation confirmed 31 great blue herons were found in an abandoned sump, and 30 of the birds were deceased upon discovery.”
Syncrude spokesperson, Will Gibson stated, “We don’t want our operations to adversely affect wildlife. Agreeing to pay a significant fine reflects the depth of our remorse over this incident.”
GFL Pays Six-Figure Fine
Late last year (2018), Green For Life Environmental, Inc. (GFL) was fined $300,000 for violation of the Dry Cleaning Regulations. This violation was not due to a release to the environment – it was administrative in nature.
As reported in Solid Waste and Recycling, “After an investigation led by Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers, charges were laid and GFL Environmental Inc. pleaded guilty to two counts of contravening the Tetrachloroethylene (Use in Dry Cleaning and Reporting Requirements) Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 for selling tetrachloroethylene to owners or operators of dry-cleaning facilities that did not meet regulatory standards.”
On numerous occasions, we have shared similar enforcement actions with respect to the Tetrachloroethylene Regulations. The ECCC has been very forthcoming in their intentions to enforce these regulations, and it has done so on several occasions.
For those that might not be familiar with the tetrachloroethylene regulations, this is where the enforcement gets interesting.
Responsibility to Insure Regulatory Compliance
GFL states in a release, “In April and November 2014, Environment Canada completed routine inspections that included two dry cleaners. One of GFL’s drivers had delivered tetrachloroethylene to these dry cleaners. Pursuant to GFL protocols, the driver was required to confirm in writing that adequate secondary containment systems were present. Investigation revealed that the dry cleaners had secondary containment containers, but they did not meet regulatory requirements. Fortunately, there was no spillage or discharge of tetrachloroethylene at either dry cleaner. No environmental contamination took place (emphasis added).”
GFL accepted responsibility for the failure to ensure that the secondary containment systems were adequate and agreed to a fine of $300,000.
Some have been critical of these Dry Cleaning Regulations as they place increased responsibility on suppliers of tetrachloroethylene to insure that the users are in compliance. This is a significant burden/liability for those drivers and the companies delivering the product. Perhaps this is why GFL chose to voluntarily stop selling tetrachloroethylene in February 2017.
A Short Primer on Tetrachloroethylene
While there was no release to the environment as stated above, when tetrachloroethylene is released to the environment, it can be problematic. Tetrachloroethylene is known as a dense non-aqueous phase liquid, or DNAPL. When this chemical is released, it “sinks” (though some will dissolve in the groundwater), making it more difficult to remediate.
The complexities and migration of a DNAPL spill are discussed in the late Dr. James Dragun’s book, “The Soil Chemistry of Hazardous Materials.” We still routinely refer to this book for these types of assessment/remediation issues.
Reducing the risk of an incident that can potentially affect human health and the environment is a tremendous responsibility for companies. When those releases do occur and you are addressing the potential impact to soil, groundwater, or air, the issue can take on new complexities.