Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. was recently ordered by the Court of Québec to pay a fine of $500,000, after pleading guilty to one count of violating the Fisheries Act. The conviction is related to the release of a deleterious, or harmful substance in September 2019.

On September 17, 2019, a deleterious substance spill occurred following the failure of a boiler at Rio Tinto Alcan Inc.’s Arvida factory in Saguenay, Quebec. To cool down the equipment for the repair work, it was sprayed with water. The water from the sprinklers then flowed into a drainage system that empties into the Saguenay River. Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. took steps to stop the flow. However, 351.3m3 of water with a pH level between 4.6 and 5.5 (acidic) was discharged into the Saguenay River.

The fine will be paid into the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund. Created in 1995, the Environmental Damages Fund is a Government of Canada program managed by Environment and Climate Change Canada. The Fund helps ensure that court-awarded penalties are used to repair environmental damage or benefit the environment.

The deposit of a deleterious substance, such as water with an acidic pH, in water which is frequented by fish is an offence under subsection 36(3) of the Fisheries Act. The spilled water for the Rio Tinto Alcan facility had a low acidic pH, which is known to be harmful to fish.

As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry. The Registry contains information on convictions of businesses registered for offences committed under federal environmental laws.