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Rare Jail Sentence for Environmental Offence in Canada

On August 21, 2018, Collingwood Prime Realty Holdings Corp. and its director, Mr. Issa El-Hinn, were sentenced in the Ontario Court of Justice for offences under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 related to contraventions of the PCB Regulations.

The charges stem from old electrical transformers and capacitors in use on the former Goodyear property at 101 Mountain Rd., which is now owned by Collingwood Prime Realty.

The property at 101 Mountain Rd., used to be a Goodyear plant. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

The court sentenced Mr. El-Hinn to a 45-day jail term, which will be served on weekends, for failing to comply with an environmental protection compliance order. The Court also sentenced the corporation and Mr. El-Hinn to pay a combined penalty of $420,000 to be directed to the federal Environmental Damages Fund.

On April 30, 2015, Environment and Climate Change Canada enforcement officers launched an investigation following the company’s failure to comply with an environmental protection compliance order. The investigation revealed that two electrical transformers and eight electrical capacitors contained higher-than-allowable PCB levels and that the equipment had not been sent for destruction to an authorized facility. The defendants pleaded guilty on September 26, 2017, to ten counts of contravening the PCB Regulations made pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and one count of failing to comply with an environmental protection compliance order.

As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

PCBs are toxic industrial chemical substances that are harmful to aquatic ecosystems and species that feed primarily on aquatic organisms.

Earlier this year, Collingwood Fire Department successfully prosecuted Collingwood Prime Realty Holdings Corp., and its owner El Hinn for multiple fire code violations at the property at 101 Mountain Rd.

Quebec Town Fined $100,000 for Violating Canadian PCB Regulations

Earlier this year, the Town of Amos, located in northwestern Quebec, pleaded guilty in court to one charge and was fined $100,000 for violating the PCB Regulations, thereby committing an offence under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA).

Amos is located 110 km northeast of Rouyn-Noranda in northwestern Québec. The Town has a population of 13,000.  Its main resources are spring water, gold, and wood products, including paper.

Charges were laid against the Town of Amos after an investigation conducted by staff from Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) showed that, in April 2015, the Town of Amos sold products containing PCBs in a concentration of 50 mg/kg or more, which is in violation of the PCB Regulations.

The amount of the fine will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund (EDF) administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

What are PCBs?

PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) are a group of man-made organic chemicals consisting of carbon, hydrogen and chlorine atoms. The number of chlorine atoms and their location in a PCB molecule determine many of its physical and chemical properties.  Due to their non-flammability, chemical stability, high boiling point and electrical insulating properties, PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications including:

  • Electrical, heat transfer and hydraulic equipment
  • Plasticizers in paints, plastics and rubber products
  • Pigments, dyes and carbonless copy paper
  • Other industrial applications

Although no longer commercially produced in North America, PCBs may be present in products and materials produced before the 1979 PCB ban. Products that may contain PCBs include:

  • Transformers and capacitors
  • Electrical equipment including voltage regulators, switches, re-closers, bushings, and electromagnets
  • Oil used in motors and hydraulic systems
  • Old electrical devices or appliances containing PCB capacitors
  • Fluorescent light ballasts
  • Cable insulation
  • Thermal insulation material including fiberglass, felt, foam, and cork
  • Adhesives and tapes
  • Oil-based paint
  • Caulking
  • Plastics
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Floor finish

The PCBs used in these products were chemical mixtures made up of a variety of individual chlorinated biphenyl components known as congeners. Most commercial PCB mixtures are known in the North America by their industrial trade names, the most common being Arochlor.

Canadian Government’s Role in the Management of PCBs?

Health Canada and Environment Canada have taken strong and effective steps under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) to control the use, importation, manufacture, storage and release of PCBs.

CEPA states that PCBs are toxic, and Environment Canada is working on revisions to CEPA that would further strengthen controls over all PCBs in service or in storage anywhere in Canada.

The Government has also established regulations regarding hazardous wastes and has signed a number of international agreements, such as the Canada-USAgreement on PCBs, and the Basel Convention, which are all aimed at the safe use, storage, transport and disposal of PCBs, both nationally and internationally.

In addition, Health Canada continues to monitor the amount of PCBs in food, air and water to ensure that Canadians are not exposed to levels that pose a health risk. Health Canada also tracks and assesses ongoing research about the health effects of exposures to PCBs.

U.S. EPA Settlement with UConn resolves Improper PCB Disposal Activity

The University of Connecticut has taken steps to ensure its PCB waste is properly disposed of in the future to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) that it improperly disposed of PCBs during a 2013 renovation project at its Storrs campus.

An aerial view of the Storrs Campus on Oct. 9, 2013. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)Morenus/UConn Photo)

The university disposed of the waste containing polychlorinated biphenyls during a 2013 window replacement project in violation of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act.  Working with its contractors and an environmental consultant, UConn’s renovation project led to the removal of soils contaminated with PCBs from the window caulk, which are classified as PCB “remediation waste.” PCB remediation waste can be disposed of only at approved facilities, but the transportation manifest did not identify the material as such, and the material consequently was shipped to a facility not licensed for this disposal.  Earlier this year, EPA notified UConn of its potential liability under federal law.  UConn and EPA then reached an agreement to resolve the violation. UConn will also pay a penalty of $28,125 as part of this settlement.

“This action demonstrates how important it is that all parties involved with PCB waste ensure that every step in the handling and disposal of the PCBs is done consistent with the regulations,” said Deb Szaro, acting regional administrator of EPA’s New England office.  “EPA appreciates the steps UConn has taken to minimize future violations.”

Once in the environment, PCBs do not readily break down and therefore may remain for long periods of time, cycling between air, water, and soil.  PCBs are classified by EPA as a probable human carcinogen and have been shown to cause other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.

For more information about health concerns and safe handling practices for PCBs (www.epa.gov/pcbs)

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Fine for Illegal Storage of PCBs

Recently in a Quebec court, Mr. Isaac Gelber pleaded guilty to three charges related to the illegal use/storage of PCBs and he was fined $25,500 under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.

The investigation, led by Environment and Climate Change Canada, showed that Mr. Isaac Gelber had committed several violations to the Act, namely:

  • Using transformers containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) thereby violating the PCB Regulations;
  • Failing to comply with the environmental protection compliance order, issued by an officer in January 2013, to dispose of three (3) transformers containing more than 500 mg/kg of PCBs
  • Knowingly making false or misleading statements

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) used to be very popular in a wide range of industrial and electrical applications. They were excellent fire resistant coolants and insulating fluids in transformers, capacitors, cables, light ballasts, bridge bearings, and magnets, among many other things.  Unfortunately, they turned out to be persistent and toxic to humans and the environment. PCBs can:

  • Travel long distances and deposit far away from their sources of release
  • Accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms
  • Cause complications like cancer and birth defects
  • Potentially disrupt immune and reproductive systems and even diminish intelligence.

Amended PCB Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA), came into force on September 5, 2008. The new regulations set phase out dates for in –use PCB equipment, as well as rigorous labelling and reporting requirements.  They also require prompt and proper disposal of PCB equipment, once it is no longer in active use.

The Department of Environment and Climate Change enforcement officers conduct inspections and investigations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.  They ensure that regulated organizations and individuals are in compliance with environmental legislation.