Irving barge carrying PCBs dumped in Trinidad
Despite all the attempts by the Irving empire to re-invent itself as a "green" corporation which stands for "sustainable development", reality has a habit of rearing its ugly head.
(27 November 2006) - A CANADIAN barge that was contaminated with PCBs and sold to a U.S. broker by New Brunswick-based J.D. Irving Ltd., has made its way into the Caribbean, a CBC investigation has revealed.
The sale, which did not violate Canadian law, nevertheless raised alarm bells among provincial and federal environment officials who seemed surprised they could not stop it.
The answer turned out to be yes.
Environmental officials found they could do nothing but stand by as the contaminated New Brunswick barge Irving Shark VII left Halifax Harbour three years ago for the international marketplace.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are industrial chemicals that were used in the manufacturing of electrical equipment, heat exchangers, hydraulic systems, and several other specialized applications up to the late 1970s. They were never manufactured in Canada but were widely used here.
PCBs are very persistent both in the environment, damaging aquatic ecosystems and in the living tissue of species that eat primarily aquatic organisms.
Because of concern for the environmental and health effects of PCBs, the Canadian government outlawed the import, manufacture, and sale of them 1977 and releasing PCBs into the environment was made illegal in 1985.
However, Canadian legislation has allowed owners of PCB equipment to continue using PCB equipment until the end of its service life. This legislation, which defined the Irving-owned barge as "equipment" allowed the PCB-contaminated vessel to be sold without a full cleanup.
No information about sale to Canadian authorities
Environment Canada's manager of enforcement for the Atlantic region, Dave Aggett, said Irving executives offered no assurances the PCBs aboard the Shark VII would be properly dealt with, flatly refusing to disclose who was buying the barge or where it was headed.
"They claimed it was part of their business, who their clients were," said Aggett. "If it wasn't some information that we could compel under our legislation they simply declined to provide the information."
The Irving Shark VII was a 40-year-old petroleum carrier that spent most of its life in waters around the Maritimes.
Irving had started cleaning the vessel in 2001, but stopped after the New Brunswick government suggested part of the decontamination might require an Environmental Impact Assessment.
Instead, the company decided to sell the barge, effectively exporting the vessel and its environmental problems to another country - all permissible under Canadian law.
Barge now renamed in Trinidad
A CBC investigation tracked the barge down in its new home in Trinidad, where it arrived sometime in 2004. The vessel is now owned by a marine company called Coloured Fin, which renamed it the T-23.
Coloured Fin's owners claim they were told nothing about the barge's toxic history.
"I have no instructions that my clients were alerted to any - shall we say - previous cargos which may have presented an environmental problem," said Coloured Fin's lawyer Nyree Alfonso.
The practice of using PCBs on Canadian petroleum barges was revealed in 1995 when another Irving barge, the Whale, was about to be lifted off the sea floor in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the coast of Prince Edward Island.
The Whale sank in the 1970s and Irving informed federal officials just before raising it that the barge contained thousands of litres of PCBs.
It turned out that at least three Irving barges had large onboard heating systems to keep their cargos of heavy oil from gumming up during cold Atlantic voyages. Pipes attached to the heating systems ran all through the cargo holds and were full of thousands of litres PCB heating fluid.
Before the Whale was set to be refloated, the federal government was unaware PCBs had been used so extensively in the marine industry and had no legislation designed to force shipping companies to account for them.
Ottawa wanted to warn destination country
Environment Canada says although it couldn't stop Irving from exporting the Shark VII, it did want to warn any destination country the barge was polluted and should be dealt with carefully.
However, Irving refused to disclose where the barge was headed and Environment Canada was unable to warn Trinidad, or any country along the way, about potential PCB problems.
"We just wanted to give whoever the country was that was going to receive them the opportunity to inspect the vessel when it arrived and to keep an eye on things so that PCB's didn't end up in some innappropriate place," says Aggett. "It was a little frustrating for us to have as little information as we did."
Irving company officials declined to be interviewed about the Shark VII sale, but spokeswoman Mary Keith issued a statement noting the transaction was legal and that an intermediate broker it dealt with was fully informed of the Shark's environmental problems.
"When the sale of the barge occurred there was full disclosure to the buyer of results of analysis by third-party experts regarding the hazardous materials aboard the barge," Keith wrote. "The buyer [U.S. broker] was aware of these conditions and accepted the barge on that basis."
Coloured Fin says it had the barge tested for PCBs after being contacted by the CBC and none were found, although the company declined to share those test results.
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