Federal Charges for illegal sale of Dry Cleaning Solvent

As reported in DurhamRegion.com (a Metro Media Publication), the federal environment ministry recently charged GFL Environmental Inc. and three of its employees for the illegal sale of tetrachloroethylene. The allegations contained in the indictment have not been proven in court.

One of the employees charged by the Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) includes the CEO and President of the company, Mr. Patrick Dovigi. Also, personal charges were laid against the company’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Mr. John Petlichkovski and another employee, Louie Servos.

GFL Environmental Inc. is known as a North American provider of diversified environmental solutions, including solid waste management, liquid waste management and soil remediation. Its bright green trucks are easily recognized in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) as it is a major private hauler of municipal solid waste in several GTA municipalities.

Specific service of GFL includes collection, transport, processing, recycling and disposal of a broad range of hazardous and non-hazardous liquid wastes (plus sale of recycled liquid wastes and other liquid products). It is not known nor is it particularly relevant in the tetrachloroethylene sold by GFL was recycled.

The ECCC alleges that GFL Environmental sold tetrachloroethylene, a solvent used in dry cleaning, to dry cleaning establishments that subsequently did not handle the material properly. The charges were laid under a section of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA) that prohibits the sale of tetrachloroethylene.

The company and employees were charged under a section of the act that prohibits the sale of tetrachloroethylene (also known as “perc”) to operators of dry cleaning machines unless specific equipment and containment requirements in the regulations are met. ECCC alleges that GFL Environmental did not first determine that its customers had the required equipment before it sold them the perc.

The federal Tetrachloroethylene (Use in Dry Cleaning and Reporting Requirements) Regulations (SOR/2003-79) under CEPA (Tetrachloroethylene Regulations)details the requirements for dry cleaners that use perc and also the requirements of companies that sell it. The regulations were put in place in 1979 as a means of requiring the use of more efficient dry-cleaning machines, minimizing spills of perc, and managing the collection and disposal of residues and wastewater.

The reporting provisions in these Tetrachloroethylene Regulations apply to persons who import or recycle tetrachloroethylene for any use, to persons who sell tetrachloroethylene to dry cleaners, and to dry cleaners. This could affect how effective a purchase could be for a dry cleaner point of sale.

According to DurhamRegion.com, GFL is vowing to fight the charges. “At GFL we take our environmental responsibilities seriously. We plan to vigorously defend these charges,” said a statement attributed to Ed Glavina, executive vice-president of strategic planning with GFL.

The charges laid by ECCC allege that in 2013 and 2014 GFL sold tetrachloroethylene to nine dry cleaning operations in the Greater Toronto Area that had not adhered to containment measures required by Tetrachloroethylene Regulations. According to the indictment, infractions noted by enforcement officers included inadequate wastewater containment systems and floor drain plugs that were not resistant to perc. In some cases, inspectors found containers and pails of residue and sludge that were not equipped with secondary containment systems, the document indicates.

DurhamRegion.com interviewed Rob McConnell, President of the Ontario Fabricare Association (OFA), as part of its investigation into the charges. OFA is a body of professional dry cleaners dedicated to the improvement of the fabricare industry in Ontario, through the establishment of good management, ethical conduct, top quality training and proper operating procedures.

“Cleaners have a responsibility to observe those regulations, said Rob McConnell in an interview with DurhamRegion.com. “They should comply; it’s standard practice,” he said.

McConnell noted, however, that there’s also an onus on suppliers to ensure the cleaners they’re supplying have fulfilled the requirements. “Suppliers must do their due diligence when they service a dry cleaning plant that’s using PERC and make sure they comply,” McConnell said. “They should get confirmation.”

According to the Open Chemistry Database, tetrachloroethylene is a colorless, volatile, nonflammable, liquid, chlorinated hydrocarbon with an ether-like odor that may emit toxic fumes of phosgene when exposed to sunlight or flames. Exposure to this substance irritates the upper respiratory tract and eyes and causes neurological effects as well as kidney and liver damage. Tetrachloroethylene is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.

When released to the environment, perc can evaporate or contaminant the subsurface. Because perc is denser than water, it tends to sink through the subsurface and groundwater until it hits bedrock. It is also only slightly soluble in water. It is hence referred to as a dense, non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL). A property contaminated with perc is very difficult and expense to remediate.

Sidney Chelsky, executive director of OFA told Durhamregion.com, “If an operator is following the regulations it’s safe for employees and it’s safe for the public. If a cleaner follows and obeys the laws, there’s absolutely no concern.” Mr. Chelsky said that while there is a dual onus for both cleaners and suppliers to ensure compliance with the Tetrachloroethylene Regulations, it’s typically the supplier that bears the brunt for infractions.

Under the CEPA, penalties upon conviction can range from $15,000 to $2 million, and individuals can also face up to three years in prison.

A spokesperson for the ECCC, Pierre Manoni, replied to inquiries from DurhamRegion.com, stating, “It should be noted that the applicable range of penalties following conviction will depend on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the number of infractions, the type of conviction (summary or by indictment), whether an individual or a corporation has been convicted, and whether the conviction is for a first or subsequent offence.”

Pierre Manoni noted that none of the companies identified in the indictment related to the GFL case have been charged. Chelsky from the OFA said that ignorance of the law is no excuse for suppliers of tetrachloroethylene.

The GFL case returns to court in Oshawa, Ontario April 21.

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