Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Your Health and Rail-tie Processing in Williams Lake. Part 4: The Law

First, let me state immediately that I am not an expert on Environmental Law (and precious few other things).

In gathering basic information about the issue of rail-tie chipping and storage, however, I've also gathered just a bit of information about provincial pollution laws that are legislated within the BC Environmental Management Act.

First, only an "industry, trade or business" that is defined as "Prescribed" requires a permit to discharge waste before they begin operation. Rail-tie chipping and storage is not defined as "Prescribed," a legal loophole that should be closed as soon as possible.

Despite this, at first glance, the BC Environmental Management Act (EMA) seems to offer hope. According to the EMA, Part 2, Sub-section 6:

"A person must not introduce waste into the environment in such a manner or quantity as to cause pollution."

The EMA defines pollution as:

"the presence in the environment of substances or contaminants that substantially alters or impairs the usefulness of the environment."

That the processing of rail-ties behind the Station House gallery is causing pollution, would seem to be, to use an Americanism, a "self evident truth." Further, the basic laws of chemistry and physics would have to be violated for this not to be true. Unfortunately this appears to be legally inadequate. The legislation is designed to require a complainant to establish that the usefulness of the environment has been altered or impaired. That would require someone, or some organization to collect and pay for expensive soil and water sampling.

But.....before anyone runs off to collect money to accomplish this (and I don't think that aspect would be hard), the results, regardless of what they revealed, would be mostly meaningless. This is because the prior use of the site would not allow one to distinguish between current and prior contamination.

As far as I can tell, this allows for the discharge of almost any form or quantity of oil, oil product, or toxin, into the soil with near complete impunity.

From a pollution perspective, the Station House Gallery site appears to be a legal toxic-waste black-hole.
One wonders how many others exist in the province.

Still, there is one angle to make the legislation work that people may consider. If pollution causes an odour, you can use the chemical receptors built into your nose, to document how the "usefulness" of the environment has been altered. If residents or business owners in an area affected by odours keep records (standardized and consistent) of odour events AND local weather records (i.e., wind speed, direction, temperature) over a long period of time, it may be possible to prove that the environment has been altered or made unusable. This was done successfully in the instance of odours from Moneys Mushrooms in the Fraser Valley.

But, back to the issue of rail-ties behind the Station House Gallery. Now it may be evident why the City of Williams Lake approached the issue from the angle of the BC Fire Code. Attempting to resolve the issue using pollution laws would have been almost impossible.

Let your MLA know that any processing of wood treated with creosote or other pesticide/preservative, should be considered a "Prescribed Industry, Trade or Business."

Photo: Screen capture of the header on the Ministry of the Environment webpage introducing the Environmental Management Act. Available from:

1 comment:

Dave Stevens said...

"air contaminant" means a substance that is introduced into the air and that

(a) injures or is capable of injuring the health or safety of a person,

(b) injures or is capable of injuring property or any life form,

(c) interferes with or is capable of interfering with visibility,

(d) interferes with or is capable of interfering with the normal conduct of business,

(e) causes or is capable of causing material physical discomfort to a person, or

(f) damages or is capable of damaging the environment;

whether the chipping needs a permit or not it won't take place without a market, i.e., Atlantic Power, who DO require a permit. The permit authorizes the discharge of air contaminants to the air. I'd say concerns should focus on market denial by opposing Atlantic Power's permit amendment.