Canadian National Railway May Face Charges Over Alberta Toxic Spill
VANCOUVER, British Columbia Alberta is eyeing charges against Canadian National Railway for not telling it that a derailment last week might have contaminated a popular lake with a hazardous chemical, a provincial government official said Tuesday.
Health officials ordered residents near Lake Wabamun, west of Edmonton, to avoid contact with the lake and water from nearby wells after discovering a ruptured tank car carried a potentially cancer-causing chemical used to treat utility poles.
Officials had previously believed last week's spill involved only heavy bunker C lubrication oil, which crews are still trying to contain. It was not known until Monday that one of the ruptured cars carried the chemical.
"We hold parties that transport goods through Alberta responsible for knowing what's in their cargo," said Irwin Huberman, spokesman for Alberta's Environment Ministry.
CN said in a statement that after checking with the shipper it found one of the cars "contained chemical components not fully reflected in the shipping information provided to CN."
CN said it had been told the rail car carried "lube oil" but a chemical analysis it has since received from the shipper "raised concerns with provincial and federal environmental and health agencies."
The results of testing at the lake were not expected until mid-week, but Huberman said the province is confident the chemical reached the water.
The derailment of 43 cars of a 140-car westbound freight train about 50 km (30 miles) west of Edmonton, Alberta, has turned into a public relations nightmare for CN Rail.
Damaged tanker cars leaked thousands of litres of heavy fuel oil into the lake, which is a popular vacation spot, leaving a slick on the water surface and coating birds and other wildlife in thick black goo.
The busy mainline track has since reopened, but residents at one point threatened to blockade the track until efforts to clean up the spill were increased. The railroad has brought in emergency crews from the United States and other parts of Canada.
The derailment has also caused TransAlta Corp to shut down its 766-megawatt Keephills generating plant in Wabamun because the coal-fired plant uses water from the lake.
CN is also under fire for a derailment last week near Squamish, British Columbia, that spilled fish-killing sodium hydroxide into the Cheakamus River.
A faulty rail is being eyed as the cause of the Alberta accident, but the cause of the British Columbia derailment has not been determined.