Citizens want to bring a class action against the British Columbia government after a kerosene spill into Lemon Creek

Lemon Creek Residents Demand Water Test Results by CBC News, August 14, 2013
People in the Slocan Valley say they are frustrated that officials will not release the results of water tests after last month’s jet fuel spill, saying the data belongs to the company responsible for the spill. Some residents say their water still smells of jet fuel, even after the Interior Health Authority (IHA) lifted all drinking water restrictions. “There are still remaining fuel pockets showing up in areas that have been OK’d for swimming and drinking and irrigation,” says Austin Greengrass. Greengrass is one of several people wondering why the province lifted a drinking water ban so quickly after a tanker truck spilled 35,000 litres of jet fuel into Lemon Creek in late July. “The tension in the valley, part of it is created from the fact that none of us has been able to get accurate laboratory results from any of the sampling that has been done,” says Greengrass. An IHA spokesperson says he can’t release water testing data because it belongs to the company responsible for the fuel spill, Executive Flight Centre, and not the health authority.

Dr. Andrew Larder, senior medical health officer for the IHA in the Kootenays, says he lifted the ‘do not use’ orders even though there is still some fuel in the water. “I was satisfied that the amounts were relatively small and that they were localized in particular places, and that the cleanup process would contain that material [which] represents a very low health risk, and was not a justification for maintaining the generalized ‘do not use’ order,” Larder said. … But, Larder says, people still need to be careful, and not use water if it smells of jet fuel. Greengrass says he’s worried people in the valley will be forced to test their drinking water themselves to ensure it is safe. … In the meantime, Winlaw resident Robert Kirk has launched a lawsuit against the Province of British Columbia and Executive Flight Centre in the wake of the spill. The defendants have until the end of the month to file their response. None of the claims have been proven in court. [Emphasis added]

LISTEN: Controversy deepens over Lemon Creek spill by CBC News, August 13, 2013

Citizens want to bring a class action against the British Columbia government after a fuel spill Internet translation of Des citoyens veulent intenter un recours collectif contre le gouvernement après un déversement de carburant by The Canadian Press, August 10, 2013, Le Devoir
Residents of British Columbia hope to file a class action after the spill of 35,000 liters of fuel last month, in the southeast of the province. July 26, on a forest road Slocan Valley, an accident involving a tanker truck filled with fuel for helicopters fight against fires caused the spill most of its cargo in the nearby streams.  Allegations of negligence and nuisance were launched against the provincial government of British Columbia and now Executive Flight Centre, which was responsible for the truck.  The proposed class action was implemented by Robert Kirk, a resident of the affected area, and some neighbors. In a statement accompanying the action, Mr. Kirk says a fuel depot improvised formed in this fragile environment, creating a dead zone. The prosecution also argued that the province has used water contaminated by gasoline to fight a forest fire by tanker, causing more damage. None of these allegations were heard in court.  Citizens seeking a court order that would force the defendants to seek independent environmental expert to monitor and remedy environmental damage. The defendants have 21 days to present their defense, after which the plaintiffs seek to certify their use. [Emphasis added]

Anatomy of a Jet Fuel Spill, A resident recounts the accident that struck Slocan Valley, and the aftermath that hasn’t ended by Nelle Maxey, August 7, 2013,
Friday, July 26 was a beautiful, sunny summer day in the Slocan Valley in the West Kootenay region of B.C. At the height of the tourist season bed and breakfasts, restaurants and retail stores served the many visitors. River recreation was at its height. Kayaks and canoes, rafts and tubes filled the Slocan River. Swimmers packed the public and private beaches along the river. Other folks were in their gardens, assessing if the beans were ready for canning and the garlic was ready for digging. Market gardeners and local greenhouses were irrigating their crops and picking produce for local and regional sale. The only unsettling activity was the drone of helicopters flying over the Winlaw area, dumping water scooped from the river on the two-day-old Perry Ridge fire. And then disaster struck. At about 1:30 that afternoon, a large tanker truck delivering jet fuel for the Ministry of Forests firefighting helicopters tumbled into Lemon Creek and dumped approximately 33,000 litres of jet fuel A1 into the water. The swift-flowing Lemon Creek pours into the Slocan River downstream of the spill.

… This is a very narrow, decommissioned logging road that had been closed to traffic due to slides and crumbling banks. One report said the driver was to be met by Forestry personnel who would direct him to the helicopter staging area, but they never showed up. The driver proceeded on his own up Lemon Creek Road, past two signs that the road was closed, eventually found a place to turn around and was on his way back down to Highway 6 when the road bank gave way under the weight of the tanker.

The driver, not seriously injured after the accident, scrambled up the 15-foot bank and walked back approximately four kilometres to Highway 6 where a passing car picked him up so he could report the accident. RCMP arrived on the scene at approximately 3:30 in the afternoon, although the fumes were so bad they could not approach the area. Once it was confirmed the truck was carrying jet fuel, the regional health authority was notified at 6 p.m. on Friday evening. A few hours later, the first evacuation order was issued for 800 residents within 300 meters of Lemon Creek and the Slocan River for three km upstream and downstream of the spill. But it took many hours before the volunteer firemen and search and rescue teams could be organized to notify residents of the evacuation order. The first phone calls went out around midnight. And the volunteers began going door-to-door in the most heavily affected areas. They stayed at it all night and into the next morning.

Meanwhile back at the spill site, officials estimate the tanker released the fuel in about 40 minutes. The fuel slick reached the Winlaw Bridge sometime around 6 p.m. (about the same time the Health Authority was notified of the accident). Children swimming in the river near Appledale just north of Winlaw were later reported to have skin rashes. Canoeists in the area also reported health effects. Residents along the river between Winlaw and Lemon Creek reported that the smell was so strong by 5 p.m. that they closed up their homes and left the area. Within 24 hours of the accident, the slick had traveled 60 km: down the Slocan River and into the Kootenay River to just above of the Brilliant Hydroelectric Dam at Castlegar. The first boom to stop the slick was established there on Saturday afternoon. The plume was two to three km long and 30 to 50 metres wide. A Ministry of Environment spokesperson said a boom had been put in place at about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday just above the Brilliant Dam. Its effectiveness in containing the fuel was being monitored. They didn’t know at that time if fuel had entered the dam works.

The smell test

Within hours of the first evacuation notice issued by the regional health authority, the evacuation was expanded to include everyone in the valley. Anyone living within a three km radius of the river between Lemon Creek and Playmore Junction (where Highway 6 joins Highway 3 to Nelson and Castlegar) were to evacuate, affecting 2,500 residents. As the fuel progressed rapidly down the river, health authorities had become worried that sleeping people would not smell the fuel. In other words, the “smell test” was ineffective. Emergency Services for the district made phone calls to some residents, and Volunteer Fire Departments began knocking on doors. The evacuation order included a Do Not Use water order to “all users of water supplies within 10 kilometres downstream of the spill”. The later wording of the order said wells were okay to use. This was revised again to say shallow wells near the river might be affected.

A week after the accident, the order explains that if your creek surface water or well water doesn’t smell like jet fuel, then it is okay to use. The “smell test” is the only test for private water supplies that don’t come directly from the rivers or from Lemon Creek. The evacuation order also contained the following statement: “Jet fuel poses an immediate health risk to people. Exposure can burn skin, inhalation can harm respiratory systems and may cause brain damage. It is also dangerous to consume.”

… By noon on Saturday, the fumes had dissipated enough that the evacuation order was lifted. Residents trickled back into the valley all day Saturday. At the north end of the valley especially, some returned to homes that were saturated with the fuel smell, and some returned to contaminated gardens and hay fields and to livestock whose watering tanks had a layer of fuel on top of the water.

Most of the valley settled down and most residents assumed the scare was over. Then the town hall meeting was held.

Many questions, few answers

On July 30, hundreds of residents from all areas of the valley jammed Winlaw Hall to hear presentations from local government, provincial authorities, the company (EFC) and their consultant and to ask questions. The handouts did not contain contact information or the names of the speakers. At first, many residents did not have their questions answered as they were told they were not on topic. Then the format was changed and residents were allowed to ask questions of any panelist. Many questions required responses from multiple panelists.

The health official immediately declared the serious nature of this event and explained the reasons for the evacuation. Though benzene was not a component of the Jet Fuel A1 spilled in the creek, kerosene (the fuel) is dangerous by breathing fumes, through skin contact or by ingestion. This applies to humans and animals. Aquatic life is at special risk. Jet Fuel A1 is listed to have chronic toxic effect on aquatic ecosystems.

Residents were informed the Do Not Use water order would stay in effect for five to 10 days at a minimum. The order applied to recreation in the river and to water use from the river and Lemon Creek. All such water systems should be shut down so the contaminated water was not drawn into pipes and hot water heaters.

Other surface water users from the creeks not affected directly should use their own judgement and apply the “smell test” to their water. Deep wells were unlikely to be affected. Shallow wells along the river should not be used as they may be contaminated. This was the first time some residents had heard the information about shallow wells and surface creeks. They were also told to wash all vegetables three times for three minutes before use with potable water (a catch-22 for residents without potable water supplies) and not to buy local produce.

As residents poured into the line-up for the mic and began asking questions and telling their stories, the consequences of the spill and the fact that little help had been available was immediately apparent. The problems were most severe at the north end of the valley from Lemon Creek to Winlaw. Homes were contaminated with the fuel smell. Fruit trees and vegetables were contaminated. Hay fields and pastures were contaminated, no water was available to water livestock, poultry or gardens. Many were without any water for drinking, washing dishes, flushing toilets or showering. Similar water problems prevailed all along the river to the lower valley.

The meeting was held five days after the spill and potable water tanks had been set up in four locations in the valley only that day.

Residents requested help and information. They requested help with decontaminating their homes, finding potable water supplies, water and well testing, food testing including milk, meat and eggs, vegetables and fruit, showering stations and porta-potties. They asked that public information stations be set up, that water and air monitoring data be made public, that information regarding Jet Fuel A1 toxicity be available, adequate signage on the river (youth were seen in the river on the day of the meeting), use of local volunteers, information regarding effects of contaminated water bucketed from river being dumped on local watershed in fire-prevention activities.

The aftermath

Eight days after the spill, the Interior Health Authority posted an updated Do Not Use water order: “Until further notice, a Do Not Use order for Drinking Water and Recreational Use remains in effect for Lemon Creek, Slocan River and Kootenay River above and below Brilliant Dam. Fuel is still visible in the containment booms and along the shoreline,” it read. Again, the smell test applied to garden vegetables, fruit, eggs, and dairy milk — “SAFE to consume as long as they do not smell like fuel or have a fuel sheen.”

Residents learned in the Nelson News online that approximately 1,000 litres of contaminated material was recovered, and the company responsible for the spill provided some information on its website Lemon Creek Response. An update posted on August 3 demonstrated that some of the residents’ requests were being fulfilled, such as the establishment of a “resiliency centre” with a shower, lavatory and emergency support services, the hiring by the local Streamkeepers of a world-renowned expert in spill clean-up operations to assess the accident, and more.

I visited the spill site and Lemon Creek on August 3. The water and the rocks in Lemon Creek still smell strongly of jet fuel. There was still some sheen visible and emulsion (milky-looking jet fuel and water mix) under rocks in the creek at the Lemon Creek bridge on Highway 6. The road had been remediated just before the accident site where fuel spilled from the tanker as it was pulled from the creek the previous week. There was no fuel on the road at the actual location where the truck went off. There was water from seeps in the rock face running across the road at that location. Workers at the site agreed with my assessment that the water run-off contributed to weakening the bank that collapsed under the truck resulting in the fuel spill.

… The greatest hardship for residents is the water use restriction. … The lack of information on the air and water monitoring data is also wearing on residents. [Emphasis added]

[Compare to the regulator response to kerosene (also called kerosine by industry) range hydrocarbons found by Alberta Environment testing of the Rosebud community’s drinking water supply. Snaps and quote below from Alberta Environment’s Hamlet of Rosebud’s Waterworks System, March 2006 Summary Report:

2006 snap from Alberta Environment report on carcinogens and usually high levels of toluene in Rosebud Hamlet drinking water


2006 04 27 C8-C14 and Diols in Rosebud Hamlet Drinking Water

Alberta Environment’s reluctant sampling of the Hamlet drinking water in 2006, analyzed by the Alberta Research Council (ARC), after Encana fractured the fresh water aquifers, detected methane, ethane, kerosene range hydrocarbons, “high levels of toluene” and carcinogens. The community was not warned about the health hazards of living with, ingesting, bathing in or breathing explosive toxics in their water, not even by Alberta Health (then Calgary Health Region). This from Alberta Environment’s report:

“The only organics detected were the trace levels of toluene, and xylene seen earlier, the THMs and some low levels (i.e. sub ppb level) of phthalate compounds, which were not considered significant. ARC was again not able to clearly identify which phthalate compounds were present. The results were passed along to the County and the CHR (Calgary Health Region). ….the THM compound bromodichloromethane was found to be slighly above Health Canada’s maximum limit of 16 ppb. This was attributed to the elevated levels of chlorine disinfectant present in the water supply and to the low level of water usage.” [Emphasis added]

The EUB (name changed to ERCB, now AER) publicly blamed the treatment of bacteria.

In his reviews of Alberta Environment’s investigations, the ARC’s Dr Alex Blyth – retained by Alberta Environment, blamed nature and water over usage for the dangerous levels of methane in Rosebud’s aquifers after Encana frac’d them.

No one mentioned that in 2005, about a year after Encana frac’d the drinking water aquifers, the Rosebud water tower blew up in an explosion, reportedly caused by “an accumulation of gases”

Refer also to:

Material Safety Data Sheet JET A-1 Kerosine
Preparation Description : Complex mixture of hydrocarbons consisting of paraffins, cycloparaffins, aromatic and olefinic hydrocarbons with carbon numbers predominantly in the C9 to C16 range. May also contain several additives….

Hazardous Components : Contains kerosine. …

WHMIS Class/Description : Class B3 Combustible Liquid
Class D2B Other Toxic Effects – Skin Irritant
Class D2B Other Toxic Effects – Narcotic effects.

Health Hazards : Slightly irritating to respiratory system. Breathing of high
vapour concentrations may cause central nervous system (CNS) depression resulting in dizziness, light-headedness, headache and nausea. Irritating to skin. Harmful: may cause lung damage if swallowed.

Signs and Symptoms : If material enters lungs, signs and symptoms may include coughing, choking, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, chest congestion, shortness of breath, and/or fever. The onset of  respiratory symptoms may be delayed for several hours after exposure. Skin irritation signs and symptoms may include a burning sensation, redness, swelling, and/or blisters. Breathing of high vapour concentrations may cause central nervous system (CNS) depression resulting in dizziness, light headedness, headache, nausea and loss of coordination. Continued inhalation may result in unconsciousness and death.

Safety Hazards : Liquid evaporates quickly and can ignite leading to a flash fire, or an explosion in a confined space. Vapour in the headspace of tanks and containers may ignite and explode at temperatures exceeding auto-ignition temperature, where vapour concentrations are within the flammability range. Flammable. Electrostatic charges may be generated during handling. Electrostatic discharge may cause fire. May ignite on surfaces at temperatures above auto-ignition temperature. Environmental Hazards : Toxic to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment. …

Hazardous combustion products may include : A complex mixture of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases (smoke). Carbon monoxide. Oxides of sulphur. Unidentified organic and inorganic compounds. Will float and can be reignited on surface water. Flammable vapours may be present even at temperatures below the flash point. The vapour is heavier than air, spreads along the ground and distant ignition is possible.

The jet fuels contain a number of additives such as antioxidants, metal
deactivators, fuel system icing inhibitors, corrosion inhibitors, and static dissipaters. It is commonly recognized that, in the treatment of poisoning from ingestion of low viscosity, aliphatic or aromatic hydrocarbons found in petroleum products such as gasoline and kerosene, care must be taken to prevent aspiration into the respiratory tract (Friedman 1987; Klaassen 1996; Snodgrass 1997). … Absorption of petroleum hydrocarbons by the skin following dermal exposure can be reduced by washing with a mild soap or detergent and water, taking care not to abrade the skin. ]

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