Paint Thinner Spill – May 2003

Overview of the Incident

In the early morning on Friday, May 16 2003, a St. Albert resident out walking the city’s Red Willow Park trail system noticed an unusual substance on the grass and alerted city staff.

Emergency response crews determined at least 100 litres of paint thinner had emerged from the city’s storm sewer system and was making its way through the marsh towards the Sturgeon River. City workers managed to contain the substance with sandbags before it had contaminated the water.

See the following news articles for more details.

St. Albert Gazette, May 17 2003

By Glenna Hanley

Staff Writer

The city’s public works crews rushed to Riel Park Friday morning to try and stop a spill of what they believed to be paint thinner or lacquer from reaching the Sturgeon River. The roadway into the marshy area next to the rodeo grounds was gated off to prevent any cars or walkers from entering.

While crews waited for an emergency response team from CEDA-Reactor Ltd. to arrive, Capt. Claude Freies from the city’s fire department and his crew began opening up the manholes along Riel Drive, trying to find out where the potent liquid came from.

“We don’t know the source so they are manually pulling the covers to see if they can track it back,” said the city’s communications director Wayne Wood, who was also on the scene.

Deputy Fire Chief Dave Martin estimated about 100 litres or more of the paint thinner or lacquer had spilled out into the marsh from the storm sewer system.

Martin said someone out for a walk on the trail in Red Willow Park noticed the sheen on the grass and phoned public works around 8:40 a.m.

“It’s in the (storm water) system and the guys are trying to track the origin of it,” said Wood.

City officials said public works crews had already laid down some sandbags to try and prevent the liquid from reaching the river. “We want to put up some more sandbags and a boom to try and contain it to where it is now,” said Martin.

Officials were concerned the liquid would contaminate the river and called in CEDA, a contractor which handles dangerous spills. Alberta Environment also sent in an investigator.

“We’ve been down to the river and walked it 50 yards up and down and it looks like it didn’t make it there yet. But there are traces of it in the marsh,” said Martin.

Wood said once the liquid has been sopped up Alberta Environment will advise on safe disposal. Later in the day the crews had traced the spill back to where it started.

“They don’t know exactly where it came from but I think they know how far back it was from the manholes,” said Wood.

Public works will be able to flush it out and successfully boom it off and prevent it from moving into the river.

“They are confident now it didn’t enter the river,” said Wood, adding Alberta Environment will take samples and determine exactly what the substance was.

St. Albert Gazette, May 24 2003

By Glenna Hanley

Staff Writer

The city has completed the clean up of the paint thinner spill that occurred in Riel Park last week and none of it reached the Sturgeon River.

“The dangerous goods team finished cleaning up the site and we know nothing went into the river,” confirmed deputy fire chief Ron Hynes.

He said the toxic substance is still being tested but, unless tests prove otherwise, it is believed it was paint thinner.

About 100 litres of the potent liquid drained out into a marshy area of Riel Park next to the rodeo grounds the morning of May 16. It was coming out of a storm sewer outfall and was noticed by a passerby who reported to public works.

Staff went immediately to the scene and began to sandbag the area and block it from moving on towards the river. A dangerous goods contractor was also called in to assist.

Public works crews traced the paint thinner back through the storm sewers about a block to find the Riel Park business from where it originated. The city is not releasing the company’s name. “We want to make sure we have the right people,” said Hynes.

He said the company is being co-operative in assisting with the investigation.

The owner could face fines under the city’s fire bylaw and from Alberta Environment. But the deputy chief said for now staff have been concentrating on the clean up and the investigation and no decisions have been made about fines.

“We want to know was it an accident, or intentional. Is this a habit of the company or has it been going on for a long time?”

City resident Stuart Loomis said all of the details of the spill should be made public. At council meeting Tuesday he called on the Riel Park Business Association to co-operate with the city in finding the source of the toxin. Until the responsible party is known, “all members of the Riel Park Business Association remain under a dark cloud.”

Loomis, an environmental planner, said the Sturgeon is too sensitive to handle this kind of threat and the substance is a threat to aquatic life.

Toxic substances like paint thinner or lacquer should not be disposed of in household waste or go to the landfill. There are no disposal sites in St. Albert but they can be taken to Edmonton eco stations at 11440 143 St. or 5150 99 St. Phone 496-5678 for hours of operation and more information.

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Elke Blodgett