After a series of tests of water samples taken from the Thompson River following a CP derailment on January 12, Interior Health (IH) says it cannot lift the Do Not Consume (DNC) order that was issued on January 13. The order stated that anyone drawing water from a 50km stretch of the Thompson south of the derailment site should not consume it, even after boiling.
Twenty-nine rail cars carrying metallurgic coal derailed at a spot just above the Thompson River, seven kilometres west of Ashcroft. Four of the cars spilled down the bank, but none entered the river. However, between 120 and 160 tonnes of coal ended up in the Thompson.
CP deployed its emergency response team immediately, and Transportation Safety Board and Environmental Emergency Response teams were at the site on the morning of January 13. Water sampling sites were set up at the site of the derailment, as well as upstream (as a control site) and downstream from the derailment. Samples of water were sent to the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to be tested for the presence of hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds.
Although coal is relatively non-toxic, metallurgic coal—which is very fine—is treated with chemicals during a “frothing process”, then heated and dried. “The first set of samples was negative,” says Dan Ferguson, manager of environmental health for IH. “But we wanted a minimum of three sets of samples with non-detectable results in order to remove the Do Not Consume public notification. We take the most conservative approach.”
He says that IH needs two more pieces of information before it can remove the DNC order. “We need confirmation that all the coal material has been removed from the bank, or that there is no chance of any more going into the river; and we need to identify, in conjunction with CP and the Ministry of the Environment, what chemicals we should be sampling for.” Ferguson adds that they will be sampling the coal first, to test for chemicals. “If there are none there, then they won’t be in the river.”
CP has promised a full remediation of the derailment to pre-event conditions. In reply to a request from The Journal on January 23 about progress at the site, a CP spokesperson replied that “CP continues to work through remediation and recovery operations on scene.”
Ferguson notes that CP is making excellent progress in their remediation efforts, and have built a road to the site to improve access. “They’re currently excavating, but did not disturb any river rock when building the road.”
There are no water systems regulated by IH on the stretch of the Thompson that was under the Do Not Consume order, and Ferguson says that the Thompson River is such a large water body that “we didn’t expect to find any traces of hydrocarbons or volatile organic compounds. The amount of water the river carries is in our favour; the dilution factor plays a part.
“The Do Not Consume order will stay in place until we’re assured that remediation has occurred to the point where there is minimal risk to the public,” says Ferguson. “Our mandate is to protect public health.”
The cause of the derailment is still under investigation. There were no injuries in the incident, which happened several kilometres below the water intake for the Village of Ashcroft.