Canadian National Railway reports submitted to the B.C. Environment Ministry on the impacts of a coal train derailment and spill January 11, 2014 in Burnaby were considered “deficient” and “unsatisfactory”, and required “more information regarding the incident”, according to Environment officials (The Straight, Burnaby Now).
Seven rail cars carrying coal fell off the tracks and 3 of the cars tipped over, spilling their contents into the surrounding area, including into Silver Creek, Burnaby Lake and Brunette River. About 270 tons of coal were spilled, according to B.C. Environment. Local observers said Silver Creek turned black following the spill.
Silver Creek is sensitive fish spawning habitat. Chum salmon were observed spawning in the creek near where the coal was spilled. Other fish in the coal-spill area included coho salmon and rainbow trout. Government officials were also concerned about the impact of the spill on the endangered Western Painted Turtle. Turtles and their eggs had to be removed from the clean-up area, and a turtle beach had to be restored and basking logs cleaned. A 2005 study by the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd. found that coal spilled into aquatic environments had physical effects on organisms, including abrasion, smothering and clogging of respiratory and feeding organs.
The B.C. Environment Ministry response to CN’s reports went on to say assessments of the derailment and potential remediation measures required improvements. “These reports are deficient in addressing the conditions, environment, biota, and potential concerns in the impacted water bodies”, read a government memo. “It is recommended that Triton Environmental (CN’s consultant) immediately undertake a more detailed assessment on the chemical characterization, environmental fate and environmental impact (short and long term) of the coal spill to Silver Creek and Burnaby Lake.” CN was asked to submit more detailed information on the amount of coal spilled, the amount of coal that was recovered, and the environmental fate of the coal that was not recovered. The memo continued, “The initial water quality sampling conducted was very limited and doesn’t address the extent of the impact.” The ministry also sought a detailed chronological report of all substantive actions taken to address the spill, and a delineation of potential impact areas.
CN and other rail companies in Canada take a very laissez-faire and cavalier approach to environmental impacts of their operations, in part because federal regulators seldom enforce federal environmental protection legislation and regulations when it comes to railway companies. Provincial regulators also have a relatively unsuccessful history of trying to enforce provincial environmental legislation with respect to railways.
Railroaded believes that railway companies should be held accountable for the environmental impacts of their operations. (See CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for many other examples of CN derailments and spills.)