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Ontario: Fine of Ammonia Release to the Environment

Air Liquide Canada was recently fined $100,000 for an offence under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act. The company was found by the court to have permitted the discharge of a contaminant (ammonia) into the natural environment, which was likely to cause an adverse effect.

Air Liquide is a major producer of gases, technologies, and services for Industry and Health Care sectors. Air Liquide is present in 80 countries with approximately 66,000 employees and serves more than 3.6 million customers and patients.

Air Liquide Canada operates a facility in the County of Lambton, near the City of Sarnia, which produces food grade carbon dioxide and is supplied with raw carbon dioxide from a neighbouring supplier. The carbon dioxide flows from the supplier through a dedicated pipeline, which is then liquefied and purified with the assistance of an ammonia-based refrigeration system.

The Air Liquide facility is staffed during daytime hours seven days a week but does not have staff on-site during the night.

On April 16, 2017, in the early morning hours when no staff were at the faciltiy, the flow of raw carbon dioxide unexpectedly increased. As a result, raw carbon dioxide exceeded the refrigeration capacity at the facility and caused approximately 815 kg of ammonia to vent through cooling system pressure release valves.

Ammonia can have corrosive effects on the respiratory system and can cause severe skin burns and eye damage.

At a distribution plant approximately one kilometer downwind from the facility, two employees were forced to seek shelter from the ammonia odour, leaving the distribution plant unattended and creating a potentially dangerous situation. One of the employees experienced eye and throat irritation.

The Investigations and Enforcement Branch (IEB) of the Ontario Environment Ministry investigated and laid charges resulting in one conviction.

Air Liquide Canada was convicted of one violation under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act and was fined $100,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $25,000, with eight months to pay the fine.

GFL Fined $300,000 for illegal sale of PERC

On December 10, 2018, GFL Environmental Inc. was sentenced after pleading guilty in the Ontario Court of Justice to violating federal environmental legislation. The company was fined $300,000.

The charges were laid January 2017 after inspectors determined that GFL had supplied tetrachloroethylene, also known as PERC, to nine dry cleaning operations in Toronto, Newmarket, Scarborough, Mississauga, Waterloo, London and Cambridge that had not adhered to containment measures required by law.  According to an indictment filed with the court at that time, infractions noted by enforcement officers included inadequate wastewater containment systems and floor drain plugs that were not resistant to PERC.

The company, along with president and CEO Patrick Dovigi, vice-president of sales and marketing John Petlichkovski, and Louie Servos, identified as a GFL employee, were each charged with 16 counts under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, according to the indictment.

The resolution presented in court on December 10th saw GFL pleading guilty to two counts. The remaining charges were withdrawn at the request of the Crown.

After an investigation led by Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers, charges were laid and GFL Environmental Inc. pleaded guilty to two counts of contravening the Tetrachloroethylene (Use in Dry Cleaning and Reporting Requirements) Regulations (SOR 203/79) under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 for selling tetrachloroethylene, commonly referred to as “PERC” to owners or operators of dry-cleaning facilities that did not meet regulatory standards.

GFL was fined $150,000 for each offence; the minimum fine for a first-time offender is $100,000. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 allows courts to fine offenders up to a maximum of $4 million.

SOR 203/79 prohibits anyone from selling tetrachloroethylene to dry cleaners unless the dry-cleaning facility is compliant with the equipment specifications set out in the Regulations, which aim to reduce releases into the environment.

dry cleaning equipment

The Regulations are unique in that in places the onus of the seller of “PERC” to ensure that the buyer (typically dry cleaning facilities) have the proper equipment and training to prevent the release of PERC into the environment.

Tetrachloroethylene, used commercially since the early 1900s, has been an important chlorinated solvent worldwide. Tetrachloroethylene is a colourless, volatile liquid with an ether-like odour. It is also commonly referred to as perchloroethylene or PERC.

The most important routes of exposure to tetrachloroethylene for the general public are ingesting contaminated water and inhaling ambient air.  Improper disposal and releases from dry cleaning facilities and landfills can lead to groundwater contamination and potential environmental exposures.

PERC is a dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL), meaning that it is only slightly soluble and more dense than water.  When released in the subsurface, it will migrate downward, adsorbing into soil particles, slightly dissolving into groundwater, and eventually making its way to bedrock where it will pool and continue to dissolve into the groundwater.  As a result, PERC is very difficult to remediate from the subsurface.

As a result of this conviction, GFL Environmental Inc. will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

The $300,000 fine will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund.  The Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) is a specified purpose account, administered by Environment Canada, to provide a mechanism for directing funds received as a result of fines, court orders, and voluntary payments to priority projects that will benefit our natural environment. The Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) follows the Polluter Pays Principle to help ensure that those who cause environmental damage or harm to wildlife take responsibility for their actions.