Urgent Canadian Action is needed on PFAS — the Forever Chemicals

Written by Bev Thorpe and Fe de Leon for the Canadian Environmental Law Association

The class of chemicals called PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) are often referred to as ‘the forever chemicals’ because they are highly persistent in the environment and will take hundreds if not thousands of years to disappear from the soil and groundwater where they accumulate.  The Netflix film, The Devil We Know, and the newly released film, Dark Waters, have brought these chemicals to popular awareness.  As we now know, two substances in this chemical class – PFOS and PFOS – are the focus of multi-million dollar lawsuits due to the cover up of data demonstrating health impacts such as increased cholesterol, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, low birth rates, thyroid disease, and weakened immunity.  Over 99% of all Canadians tested by Health Canada’s biomonitoring surveys, have PFOA and PFOS in their blood and other organs including communities in the far north.  Producers of PFOS and PFOA voluntarily stopped production in 2002 resulting in a slight decrease of these two PFAS in sampled populations, but other PFAS are now turning up in Canadians. Yet the Canadian regulatory response to this crisis is lacking urgency and transparent communication with impacted communities.

PFAS is widely present because  for over sixty years these chemicals have been used as stain, oil and water repellant chemicals in  clothing, carpets, grease-proof paper, ski wax, cookware and cosmetics and also widely used in firefighting foam and other industrial applications.  Their widespread use raises the question why it took so long to highlight the risk to human health and wildlife and why regulatory response has been so slow.  This is partly because scientists lacked the analytical capability to measure these chemicals in the environment until recently.  At the same time, PFAS, as with thousands of chemicals were historically allowed on the market with no toxicological screening requirements.  Even today, most new  PFAS, which industry is now switching to as replacements for PFOA and PFOS, lack full toxicological data yet they remain unregulated and on the market.

In Canada most uses for PFOS were prohibited in 2016 aside from exemptions for specific uses.  In 2012, the federal government concluded that PFOA was an ecological concern. But Health Canada maintains that PFOS and PFOA are not a concern for human health at current levels of exposure.  Most recently in June 2019 Transport Canada allowed airports to use PFAS-free firefighting foam, which shows a more precautionary approach as it targets the whole class of PFAS, but this is only a start.  There are over 5,000 PFAS in use and they are just as persistent in the environment as PFOS and PFOA, with many known to be highly mobile in rivers, lakes and groundwater.  None of these are restricted in Canada.

For Canadian adults, our main exposure to PFAS is via household dust, ingestion of food and air – in fact studies of air in Vancouver homes found levels of PFAS were twenty times higher than air outside the homes due to PFAS inside the homes.  Children, infants and toddlers are most at risk from PFAS exposure due to hand-to-mouth contact with PFAS treated products.  In addition, Canadian research has demonstrated PFAS in the leachate and air of landfill sites, due to the amount of PFAS in the clothing, carpets and consumer goods that have been discarded into landfills over the years and which are now leaching these chemicals into the environment.  PFAS are found in the air and effluent from wastewater treatment sites as well as in the sewage sludge which can be spread on land.

If this situation seems worrying, it is.  We lack full transparency of where contamination sites are in Canada and full accountability for who is responsible for the cleanup. Remediation is expensive and technically challenging which may partly explain such inaction.  The region downstream of Hamilton airport has still not been cleaned up eight years after high levels of PFAS contamination were discovered.  The extent of contamination in Canada is difficult to know, unlike the disclosure afforded to US citizens by many US state regulatory bodies.  The use of PFAS in firefighting foam at military bases, airports and refineries is increasingly acknowledged to be a common source of  water contamination but public information is absent on site specific monitoring data or even if groundwater wells are being monitored.  In December 2018 Health Canada released Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines for PFOS and PFOA which are substantially weaker than US based guidelines and to date British Columbia is the only Canadian province to establish provincial drinking water regulations.

We urgently need to see federal and provincial governments take action to phase out the entire class of PFAS in consumer and industrial use; strengthen Canadian drinking water standards to be more protective of children’s health and radically increase public right to know about the presence of PFAS in consumer products, local drinking water, and discharges into our communities. Tackling these forever chemicals requires an informed and coordinated public response which has sadly been lacking to date.

This article has been republished with the permission of the authors.  It was first published on the CELA website.


About the Authors

Bev Thorpe is an environmental consultant and principle author of CELA’s reports on PFAS.  Bev works with advocacy networks, companies and governments to advance an economy without the harm of hazardous chemicals.  She is a long time member of the Coming Clean network in the USA and she works with European and Asian networks.

Fe de Leon is a researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) and has worked extensively on toxic substances particularly in the Great Lakes Basin, on the federal chemicals management plan and on international efforts to address persistent toxic substances through the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Great Lakes Quality Agreement, and a global treaty to address mercury.

Environmental Liability Policies: The Extent Of Coverage

Written by Robert Emblem, Partner and Gabrielle Dumas-Aubin, Senior Associate, Clyde & Co

The authors wish to thank Raphaëlle Dussault for her contribution to the article

Soil contamination can expose landowners and businesses to significant liability. But Clyde & Co recently secured a Quebec ruling that demonstrates they should not assume that environmental liability insurance policies offer blanket protections against environmental risks. Indeed, there are significant differences between the types of coverage that they can offer.

In its judgment, in Paquet & Fils Ltée the Quebec Superior Court ruled on the applicability of an environmental cleanup and liability insurance policy for storage tanks. The defendants, a pool of insurers, issued the policy to the plaintiff, Paquet & Fils Ltée, a distributor of petroleum products, for its gas station located in Saint-Damien-de-Buckland, Quebec.

This lawsuit came about following the plaintiff’s discovery of contaminated soils at its gas station. The plaintiff had not conducted environmental testing when it acquired the site, nor when it dismantled the gas station.

It presented a claim to the Encon Group Inc. (which was acting as an insurance manager for the defendants) under the policy for the cost of decontamination. Encon denied coverage on the grounds that the plaintiff did not prove that the source of contamination originated from a storage tank leak during the period of insurance, as required under the policy.

The plaintiff sued the defendants contesting the denial of coverage, claiming that by taking such a position, the defendants never assumed any risk under the policy. It also argued that the defendants have been acting in bad faith when they initially issued the policy and following the receipt of its notice of claim. In particular, the plaintiff asserted that before issuing the policy, the defendants should have investigated the risk further instead of relying on the plaintiff’s statements. The plaintiff also argued that the defendants failed to advise it of the importance of identifying the source and age of the contamination. Finally, had it not been for the defendants’ late denial, the plaintiff claimed, it could have resumed its commercial activities at the site without having to decontaminate it.

Clyde & Co lawyers responded for the defendants that they were justified in denying coverage since the plaintiff failed to demonstrate, on a balance of probabilities, the existence of a “release,” within the meaning of the policy, during the period of insurance.

Initial comments

The court began by reviewing general interpretation principles for insurance policies. It explained that it was up to the insured first to establish that the claimed damage or loss falls within the initial grant of coverage. Following that, the insurer could prove that an exclusion applied. The court also noted that when the policy is unambiguous, it should give effect to clear language, reading the contract as a whole.

The court added that the insured could meet its onus by any means, including a presumption of fact, provided that it is serious, precise and concordant. That said, it notes that a presumption of fact cannot be deduced from a pure hypothesis, vague suspicions or mere conjecture. The court concluded that no presumption of fact was of assistance to the plaintiff in this case.

Policy triggers

The court explained that for coverage to be triggered under the policy, the plaintiff must prove, among other things, (1) the source of the contamination (i.e. a “release” originating from a “storage tank system”) and (2) the age of the contamination (i.e. started on or after the “retroactive date” specified in the policy).

It emphasized that the policy only covers a “release” originating from a “storage tank system” as opposed to one that occurs in the context of the plaintiff’s operations. Reviewing expert opinions and testimony, it indicated that it could not reasonably infer that a “release” had occurred. Even the plaintiff’s expert could not exclude that the plaintiff’s operations might have been the source of the contamination.

The court noted that no one had noticed or recorded a leak or any irregularity, which might suggest that a leak originated from a storage tank during the coverage period (on or after the “retroactive date”). In particular, it stressed that none of the experts could determine when precisely the contamination happened or how recently.

The court concluded that, in the absence of serious, precise and concordant facts proving that a release started during the period of coverage, the plaintiff could not demand that the defendants pay for the decontamination.

Illusory coverage and the insurers’ failure to investigate

The court also rejected the argument that the defendants never actually covered any risk. If, during the policy period, the plaintiff had observed a leak originating from its “storage tank system,” had conducted a proper investigation as required by the policy, and notified the defendants, there is no reason why coverage would have been denied.

The court also found that the defendants had no obligation to collect additional information to assess the risk at the time of the application for insurance. It made a distinction between the present matter and the case where the defendants would seek to cancel the policy for misrepresentation or non-disclosure of the material facts that affected their acceptance of the risk or setting the premium.

As for the allegations of bad faith, the court noted that the claims adjuster advised the plaintiff early on that, in the absence of an investigation establishing a “release,” coverage could be denied. The claims adjuster had also asked for additional information related to the source and age of the contamination. What’s more, the court concluded that the plaintiff did not demonstrate the seriousness of its alleged intention to resume its commercial activities. As a result, the defendants did not act in bad faith.

Takeaway

Ultimately, it is the insured’s responsibility to conduct environmental testing, in particular when acquiring a property, applying for an insurance policy or before dismantling facilities. These tests could be crucial to determine whether and to what extent coverage is available under an environmental liability policy. The plaintiff has not appealed the judgment.

This article has been republished with the permission of the authors.  It it was originally published on the Clyde & Co website.


About the Authors

Robert Emblem, Partner

Having worked on secondment with a leading Lloyd’s syndicate in the mid-1990s, Bob has also developed a large insurance coverage and defense practice. He represents insurers, reinsurers and insureds in the areas of commercial general liability, professional liability, media/technology liability, directors’ and officers’ liability, fidelity, contingency and property insurance. In addition to providing coverage and regulatory advice to insurers and reinsurers, he regularly performs policy wording reviews and claims audits.

Bob is a member of both the Ontario and Quebec bars, has wide-ranging experience in both the Common Law and civil law systems, and is fluently bilingual in English and French. Bob regularly appears before all levels of the Quebec courts as well as arbitration and mediation panels throughout North America.

Bob is one of the leading experts in Canada in the area of course of construction insurance and co-authored Commercial General Liability Insurance published by Butterworths. He speaks regularly at conferences and delivers papers for the Barreau du Québec, the Canadian Institute, the Canadian Bar Association, Insight, Canadian Defence Lawyers, the Insurance Bureau of Canada and other organizations.

Gabrielle Dumas-Aubin, Senior Associate

Gabrielle joined Clyde & Co in 2016, where she provides advices on managing and monitoring claims and insurance coverage for Canadian and foreign insurers. Gabrielle analyzes complex claims and draws up legal opinions on professional liability and general liability risks.

She graduated from the University of Ottawa with the honorary mention summa cum laude. During her studies, Gabrielle received numerous scholarships and was a research assistant for various professors. She completed her studies with a master’s degree in law at Oxford University in 2014.  Gabrielle is a member of the Young Bar Association of Montreal and of the Bar of Quebec in 2013.

Ontario Government Proposes new rules around Administrative Monetary Penalties

The Ontario government recently proposed amendments to regulations dealing with Administrative Monetary Penalties (AMPs) under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act.  The reason given for the proposed amendments was that they would remove regulatory overlap and result in regulations that are focused and streamlined.

An AMP is a financial penalty for non-compliance that provides an incentive to the violator to return to compliance and deter future non-compliance.  Administrative penalties are used across the Government of Ontario in regulated program areas such as forestry, consumer protection, energy, and waste diversion.

Deficiency in the Existing AMPs

AMPs are regularly used in other jurisdictions, particularly Canada and the United States, to support the enforcement of environmental laws (e.g. British Columbia, Alberta, Canada, Quebec, Ohio, Vermont and Minnesota).

AMPs, as a compliance and enforcement tool (i.e. environmental penalties), are currently available to the Ontario Environment Ministry for some land, water and air violations, but are limited in scope. This gap leaves many program areas with limited enforcement tools and affects the ministry’s ability to effectively hold polluters accountable.  In addition, some of the acts proposed to be amended that are enforced by the Ontario Environment Ministry do not have the enabling authority to issue administrative monetary penalties (e.g. Safe Drinking Water ActPesticides Act), while others are out of step with best practice (e.g. Nutrient Management Act, 2002).

Jeff Yurek, Ontario Environment Minister

Proposed Amendments

The are proposed legislative amendments expand and/or clarify enabling authority to issue administrative monetary penalties for environmental violations under key environmental statutes, including:

  • Nutrient Management Act, 2002
  • Ontario Water Resources Act
  • Pesticides Act
  • Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002

The proposed amendments would enable administrative monetary penalties to be issued for a broad range of environmental violations under the acts mentioned above. To take effect, violations that may be subject to an administrative monetary penalty would be prescribed in regulation.

The proposal, along with recent amendments to the Environmental Protection Act, would replace existing monetary penalties (i.e. environmental penalties) under the Environmental Protection Act and Ontario Water Resources Act.

Key provisions under the proposed administrative monetary penalty approach are set out under each act and include:

  • set maximum penalty amounts or higher if the economic benefit achieved via the violation was higher (penalty amounts would be set by a regulation). The maximum penalty amounts set in the acts are as follows:
    1. Ontario Water Resources Act – $200,000 per contravention (same as the Environmental Protection Act)
    2. Pesticides Act – $100,000 per contravention
    3. Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002 – $100,000 per contravention
    4. Nutrient Management Act, 2002 – $10,000 per contravention
  • ability to review and/or appeal the administrative penalty
  • an annual report listing the administrative penalties issued in the last calendar year
  • provisions to enable the implementation of administrative monetary penalties in regulation (e.g. how to set administrative monetary penalty amounts, who they can apply to, and how violators can seek reductions in penalty amounts for taking action to prevent or mitigate the contravention

The government argues that the broader use of AMPs would help it take strong action against illegal activity, ensure that polluters are accountable for their actions, and deal with environmental violations that do occur, more efficiently and appropriately.  Prosecution would continue to be used as an enforcement tool but may be limited to serious violations.

If passed, these proposed legislative amendments would allow for future regulations to implement administrative monetary penalties to more violations, such as, but not limited to:

  • illegal sewage discharges into waterways
  • selling pesticides without a license
  • failing to have a certified drinking water operator
  • violating terms of a permit to take water

Criticism of the Proposal

Environmental activists decried the proposal and charged that it will result in lightened consequences for polluters.  Keith Brooks, spokesperson for Environmental Defence, stated in press release, “It is highly deceptive of the Ontario government to claim that it is doing more to hold polluters accountable, when they are actually cutting the penalties polluters face.”

The environment critic from the Ontario New Democratic Party, Ian Arthur, an MPP for Kingston and the Islands, stated: “The Ford government has proposed eliminating an existing $100,000-per-day penalty for environmental polluters and replacing it with a one-off fine of $10,000. Further, the government is pushing to cap environmental fines at an overall maximum of $200,000.”

 

Nova Scotia’s Auditor General Concerned about Mine Contamination

In a recent report issued by Nova Scotia’s Auditor says more work needs to be done to address contaminated mine sites throughout the province.

“I drew attention to this accounting because the cost to clean up the province’s contaminated sites could significantly change in the future as the province collects more information on these sites,” Michael Pickup, Nova Scotia’s Auditor General said.

This was the first year the report drew attention to accounting for contaminated sites. The report showed that contaminated site liabilities increased to $372 million in 2019 compared to $107 million five years ago.

According to Pickup’s report, the Department of Lands and Forestry’s investigations of contamination at abandoned mine sites is lacking, leaving a risk of unknown financial, ecological and human health concerns. The report also found an additional 63 mine sites with no liability for remediation because the contamination extent is unknown.

Historical Gold Mining Area Map for Nova Scotia

“Those sorts of legacy sites, unfortunately, date from a period in which there really wasn’t environmental science and people just didn’t have a good understanding of our impact on the environment,” says Sean Kirby, the Executive Director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia.

Greener Cleanup Metrics

The United States Environmental Protect Agency (U.S. EPA) “Principles for Greener Cleanups” provide a foundation for planning and implementing cleanups that protect human health and the environment while minimizing the environmental footprint of cleanup activities.

The U.S. EPA has developed 14 greener cleanup metrics that may be used to quantify specific portions of the footprint, such as the amounts of refined materials, public water or diesel fuel that are used or the amount of wastewater and hazardous waste that is generated.

 

Category Metric Unit of Measure
Materials
Refined materials used or conserved tons
Unrefined materials used or conserved tons
Waste Hazardous waste generated or avoided tons
Non-hazardous waste generated or avoided tons
Water Public water used or conserved million gallons
Groundwater used or conserved million gallons
Wastewater generated or avoided million gallons
Other water used or conserved million gallons
Energy Grid electricity used or conserved megawatt hours
Diesel used or conserved for equipment gallons
Diesel used or conserved for transportation gallons
Gasoline used or conserved for equipment gallons
Gasoline used or conserved for transportation gallons
Other energy used or conserved (variable)

The metrics provide an optional means for regulators, private industry and other cleanup partners to collect and track site-specific footprint information across multiple sites in a uniform and transparent manner. On a site-specific level, use of the metrics can help decision makers prioritize and select best management practices (BMPs) that could be implemented to minimize the footprint. The metrics may be applied to any type of site cleanup, including ones conducted through Superfund, RCRA or brownfield regulatory programs or voluntary initiatives.

Due to wide variations in cleanup project scopes and regional or local priorities, environmental footprints associated with other core elements of a greener cleanup may be quantified through additional metrics chosen by project stakeholders. Parties interested in quantifying a cleanup project’s environmental footprint at a more detailed level may use EPA’s Spreadsheets for Environmental Footprint Analysis (SEFA).

Questions about the Greener Cleanup Metrics may be forwarded to: Carlos Pachon, EPA/Office of Land and Emergency Management, or Hilary Thornton, EPA/Region 4.

 

Concern over potential slow response time at Burnaby crude oil storage facility

A recently disclosed fire protection audit report on the Burnaby, British Columbia crude oil storage terminal has raised concerns of local politicians and residents.  The facility is owned by TransMountain Pipeline.  The report estimates that the planned response time to a major event, such as a serious spill or fire, at six hours.

The Burnaby storage terminal is the end point of the Trans Mountain Pipeline System. It is a distribution point for crude oil and refined products to local terminals – the Parkland refinery and the Westridge Marine Terminal. The Burnaby terminal currently has 13 tanks with a combined storage capacity of 1.6-m bbl with secondary and tertiary containment.

The fire protection audit was commissioned by the National Energy Board (now the Canadian Energy Regulator [CER]) in 2016.  The audit was conducted by PLC Fire Safety Solutions, a company provide quality fire safety engineering services.

In May, the National Energy Board (now the CER) issued a report on Trans Mountain’s fire preparedness at three oil terminals in Burnaby, B.C., and Edmonton, Alberta. The CER report notes that TransMountain’s response time goal for assembling staff and contractors to initiate the fire fighting activities as six hours.  In its report, it states the TransMountain reduce the response time to four hours.

The PLC Safety Solutions report on the Burnaby terminal concluded in the emergency response plans were generally in compliance, but it raised questions about the time and manner in which the company’s own firefighting team could respond.

“Since there is currently no mutual aid agreement with the Burnaby Fire Department, initial response will be limited and response time could be six hours,” concludes the report.

The fire protection audit report was recently made public after the local Member of Parliament filed a Freedom of Information request.  In response to the report being made public and the  Since the report was prepared, the Canadian Energy Regulator has stated that the response time has been reduced to four hours.

TransMountain Pipeline issued a news release in response to the report’s finding being made public, stating, “At our terminals, we are ready to respond immediately with people and equipment. Trans Mountain has mutual aid agreements in place with other industrial operators in the areas where we operate, and contracts with response companies to provide fire responders to the terminals.”

The Burnaby crude oil storage terminal has been in operation for more than 65 years.  There has never been a storage tank fire.

 

Federal Government Passes Controversial Environmental Legislation and Tanker Ban

Written by Blakes Environmental Law Group

The Government of Canada has enacted two new pieces of environmental legislation, significantly altering the process for federal project approvals in Canada. It has also passed extensive amendments to the rules regarding navigable waters and fish habitat protections that had been previously changed through omnibus legislation in 2012.

On June 20, 2019, the Senate passed three bills:

  1. Bill C-69, the controversial Act entitled An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
  2. Bill C-48, Oil Tanker Moratorium Act
  3. Bill C-68, Act to Amend the Fisheries Act

All three bills received royal assent on June 21, 2019. Bill C-69 and significant portions of Bill C-68 will come into force later, through orders-in-council. Once in force, the bills will result in significant changes to how the government manages and approves projects in Canada. For more information on Bills C-69 and C-68, please see our February 2018 Blakes Bulletin: Federal Government Overhauls Canadian Environmental Legislation.

BILL C-69

Originally introduced in the House of Commons in February 2018, Bill C-69 toured the country and was amended three times before ultimately receiving royal assent over a year after its introduction. The final Senate vote was 57 to 37 with one abstention. Highlights of Bill C-69 include the repeal of the National Energy Board Act (NEB Act) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA), signalling the end of the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. To replace them, the new Canadian Energy Regulator Act (CERA) and Impact Assessment Act (IAA) respectively, will create two new regulators: the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER) and the Impact Assessment Agency (Agency).

The CER, like the NEB, will continue to govern the lifecycle of federal energy projects, including interprovincial and international pipelines and transmission lines, offshore energy projects, and international energy trade. However, the new Agency will take over all impact assessments and evaluate projects based on several mandatory factors, including project need, economic and social effects, and Indigenous knowledge related to the project. The Agency or appointed review panel must report to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada (Minister) or the governor-in-council on the positive and negative impacts of the project. This is in contrast to the existing procedure, where the NEB presides over project reviews and makes recommendations to the government. Cabinet or the Minister, however, will remain responsible for final determinations on the public interest.

The new IAA process will include an early planning stage and proponent impact statement prior to the commencement of an impact assessment. An impact assessment may be led by the Agency or a review panel, which may include panel members from lifecycle regulators such as the CER. Like the CEAA, the IAA will apply to designated projects; however, the regulations indicating which projects will be designated have not yet been finalized.

Bill C-69 was not passed with flying colours. The first round of amendments to the bill were made on the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development (ENVI). The ENVI Committee Report was prepared with input from Indigenous Peoples, companies and individuals. The initial round of amendments included changes such as clearer timelines, clarification around factors to be considered in project review (only feasible alternatives to be considered, both positive and negative impacts), clarification of transitional provisions and allowance for integrated review panels to ensure projects are subjected to only one review.

The first round of amendments was approved and Bill C-69 was sent to the Senate, where it was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (Senate Committee). After touring the country to hear from interested parties nationwide, in May 2019, the Senate Committee recommended, and the Senate subsequently adopted, nearly 200 amendments to the bill.

After the extensive amendments were approved by the Senate, Bill C-69 went back to Parliament. On June 13, 2019, the federal government accepted 99 of the amendments passed by the Senate and rejected the remainder. Of those 99, the majority were accepted as drafted, but a substantial portion were further amended. The resulting version of the bill (which has not yet been consolidated and released) was passed by the Senate on June 20, 2019.

Amendments

The accepted amendments are primarily amendments to the IAA. Among those amendments approved by the government and ultimately passed by the Senate are several changes to the IAA which re-allocate powers from the Minister to the Agency. For example, the ability to suspend time limits, or to determine relevant factors to consider in an assessment. Also, the Minister is not allowed to direct the Agency, its employees, or any review panel members with respect to a report, decision, order, or recommendation to be made under the IAA.

Several amendments recommended by the Senate Committee would have modified the mandatory considerations for project approvals set out in section 22 of the IAA, but all were ultimately rejected. Also included in the rejected Senate amendments were those which would have decreased the IAA’s obligations to consider the impacts of proposed projects on climate change. The resulting version of the IAA does not require the Agency to consider a project’s impact on climate change on a global level, to account for provincial enactments respecting climate change, or to explicitly exclude greenhouse gas emissions generated from another downstream physical activity or project from the definition of direct or incidental effects. The requirement to consider a project’s impact on Canada’s ability to meet its international climate change obligations remains.

Amendments that were accepted clarify that the Agency is responsible for determining the scope of the factors that must be considered when conducting an impact assessment. A clarifying amendment that appointed review panel members will be “unbiased and free from any conflict of interest” was also included, as well as those clarifying timelines for review panels. Obligations to consult with the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and lead Commissioner of the Canadian Energy Regulator (depending on the designated project) when establishing a review panel’s terms of reference are also included.

Global amendments include changing the adjective “adverse” to “significant” when referring to project effects, and clarifying that Indigenous knowledge includes the knowledge of Indigenous women.

Transitional Provisions and Coming into Force

Some of the accepted amendments clarify the transitional provisions and coming into force of the acts in Bill C-69. For example, the new section 182.1 clarifies that an environmental assessment commenced under the CEAA for which a decision statement has not yet been issued upon the coming into force of Bill C-69 is continued as if the CEAA had not been repealed. The new section 187.1 also confirms that a regional study commenced under the CEAA but not completed until after Bill C-69 comes into force is continued as an assessment under the IAA. Also, a regional report under the CEAA is deemed to be report under the IAA.

Completed studies, assessments and approvals under the NEB Act or the CEAA will be continued under the new legislation. If a designated project under the CEAA was determined not to require an environmental assessment, the IAA will not apply. Incomplete assessments or applications will be completed under the legislation they were commenced under, although by a new regulatory body (the Agency or the CER). NEB members may be requested to continue to hear applications that were active before them upon the coming into force of the acts.

Bill C-69 received royal assent on June 21, 2019. It will come into force on a day specified by the governor-in-council.

BILL C-48

The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act was also passed on June 20, 2019 in a Senate vote of 49 to 46, with one abstention. Like Bill C-69, Bill C-48 went on tour and faced two rounds of amendments before making it through the Senate. The Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications ultimately rejected the Bill. Interestingly, one of the reasons the Senate Committee recommended that Bill C-48 not proceed was that it felt, should Bill C-69 be passed into law, Bill C-48 would be unnecessary. Despite this recommendation, the Senate rejected the Senate Committee’s recommendation and passed Bill C-48 with minor amendments. The House of Commons accepted the amendments in part, resulting in a requirement to review the act in five years.

The Oil Tanker Moratorium Act will prevent all oil tankers carrying more than 12,500 tonnes of crude oil or persistent oil as cargo from stopping or unloading at ports or marine installations north of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan border. It is particularly criticized as being prejudicial to Western Canadian interests.

BILL C-68

Originally introduced in the House of Commons in February 2018, Bill C-68 was amended at the third reading stage in the House of Commons, and then further amended by the Senate after consideration by the Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. It was passed by the Senate after the House of Commons agreed to accept 30 of the amendments proposed by the Senate and the Senate agreed to the House’s rejection of the rest of the Senate’s amendments.

Significant parts of Bill C-68 relate to the fishery itself but there are some key changes to the fish and fish habitat protection and pollution prevention provision of the Fisheries Act which are of relevance to project development and ongoing operations affecting fish and fish habitat. Of most importance is the repeal of the prohibitions against causing serious harm to fish and the return of the separate prohibitions on death to fish, and causing harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, or HADD as it is usually called. A last-minute amendment at the third reading stage had been added to create a provision which deemed the: “quantity, timing and quality of water flow necessary to sustain freshwater or estuarine ecosystems of a fish habitat” to be fish habitat. However, with significant opposition to the deeming provision from stakeholders across the country, the Senate voted to remove it, and the House of Commons agreed.

The amendments to the act expand the authority of the Ministry to establish standards and codes of practice, and also broaden the exceptions to the prohibitions not to cause HADD or the death of fish to allow for the Minister to prescribe classes of works or undertakings that can be carried out. The amendments also allow for fish habitat banks and habitat credits granted in relation to conservation projects carried out by a project proponent for the purpose of creating, restoring or enhancing fish habitats within a prescribed area.

Most of Bill C-68 will not be in force until the government issues new and revised regulations necessary to implement the amended provisions.

CONCLUSION

The adoption of Bills C-69, C-48 and C-68 completes a legislative overhaul of environmental assessment laws in Canada. This multi-year process commenced in early 2016 and included recommendations from expert panels, significant nation-wide debate and travelling Senate Committees. While the changes to the Fisheries Act would appear to set back the clock somewhat, expanded regulatory powers may offset the retroactive aspects of the amendments for new projects impacting Canadian waters.

Bills C-69 and C-48 in particular have been highly controversial, with some provinces arguing that they constitute an invasion on provincial jurisdiction to develop natural resources. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced his intention to challenge both of the new acts in court. Critics are concerned that project approvals, in particular for pipelines, will not be forthcoming, and that the tanker ban is a targeted attempt to interfere with bitumen production in Alberta.

Although we now have certainty regarding the specifics of the legislation that new projects will be subject to, questions remain regarding whether the implementation of the legislation will achieve one of its main objectives, which is to enhance “Canada’s global competitiveness by building a system that enables decisions to be made in a predictable and timely manner, providing certainty to investors and stakeholders, driving innovation and enabling the carrying out of sound projects that create jobs for Canadians.”


Republished with permission from Blakes. This article was originally published Blakes Business Class website.

For further information, please contact any member of Blakes’ Environmental Law group.

TPH Risk Evaluation at Petroleum Contaminated Sites

Written by Abimbola Baejo, Staff Reporter

This report is from a webinar
conducted by the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC) Total
Petroleum Hydrocarbon Risk Evaluation Team and the US EPA Clean up Information
Network on the 19 of June 2019. https://tphrisk-1.itrcweb.org/

The webinar was made to facilitate
better-informed decisions made by regulators, project managers, consultants,
industries and stakeholders, on evaluating the risk of TPHs at petroleum contaminated
sites.

What is TPH?

In environmental media, crude oil and individual refinery products are typically characterized as TPH. They are made up of hydrocarbons along with other elements such as nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur, inorganics and metals. The refining process generates various commercial products such as kerosene, diesel, gasoline; with over 2,000 petroleum products identified. These products are made up of various number of carbon atoms which may be in straight or branched chain forms.

TPHs can be found in familiar sites such refineries, air- and seaports, offshore sheens, terminals, service stations and oil storage areas. Hydrocarbons can be broadly classified into aliphatic (e.g. alkanes and alkenes) and aromatic (e.g. benzene and naphthalene) hydrocarbons.

For TPH assessment at contaminated sites, relevant properties to consider are water-solubility, polarity, boiling point and evaporation ranges. Aliphatic hydrocarbons are non-water soluble, non-polar, have lower boiling points and are more prone to evaporation compared to the aromatic hydrocarbons. At a typical petroleum contaminated site, substances such as fuel additives (such as oxygenates), naturally occurring hydrocarbon components, metabolites from degraded substances and individual petroleum constituents (such as BTEX).

TPHs are made up of various constituents with similar or different carbon atoms. This means that there is the challenge of analytically separating TPH constituents in a risk assessment context since hydrocarbon constituents from a specific range of carbon atoms could be a challenge, especially if they are diesel, jet fuel or petroleum. With this knowledge, one can conclude that bulk TPH analysis, though a good screening method, is not a suitable method for TPH risk evaluation. A good way of summarizing this is in shown below.

Chromatograms of samples from the same analysis. Sample 1, 2 and 3 are Gasoline, Diesel fuel and South Louisiana Crude respectively. The analysis method used was EPA method 8015. (Image courtesy of ITRC, 2019)

The same concentration of TPHs in
different areas of a site might be composed of different products; which in
turn, may present different risks to the ecological environment. Therefore, we
can safely say that TPH is:

  • a
    complex mixture with an approximate quantitative value representing the amount
    of petroleum mixture in the sample matrix
  • is
    defined by the analytical measure used to measure it, which varies from  one laboratory to another.
  • is
    either made up of anthropogenic products freshly released into the environment
    (or weathered) or natural products from ecological activities
  • not
    totally of petroleum origin and may simply be detected by the analytical method
    used.

This definition then enhances the
challenges faced with TPH risk assessing such as dealing with continual changes
in TPH composition due to weathering brought on by site-specific conditions,
trying to analyze for hundreds of individual constituents in the mixture and
having limited data on the toxicological effects of the various constituents.

To overcome the challenge of drawing erroneous conclusions about a contaminated site therefore, the project manager should not focus only on TPH individual constituents when making remedial decisions, which mostly degrade before the toxic fractions do, but should collect samples for both fractions and individual constituents. A detailed Conceptual Site Model (CSM) is suggested as a good guide in assessing TPH risks as it shows where the the remediation focus should be, away from human exposure routes; and periodic revision of this CSM will assist in documenting contaminant plume changes and identifying areas with residual contamination.

TPH ANALYSES

Due to the complexity of TPH mixtures,
analytical methods should be selected based on the data quality objective,
application of the results (whether to delineate a contaminated area or to
conduct a risk assessment), the regulatory requirements, the petroleum type and
the media/matrix being tested. As long as the method is fit for its purpose and
cost effective. TPH mixtures require separation and most laboratories use GC as
a preferred method as it separates I the gas phase based on its volatility.
Since it is difficult to evaluate risk for a TPH mixture, most methods suggest
separation into fractions. Guidelines are usually provided on what methods suit
a purpose best by governmental records but if such records are inaccessible,
getting information from seasoned chemists is the best option. 

Prior to TPH mixture separation,
removing method interferences, such as non-petroleum hydrocarbons, is ideal for
more accurate results. US EPA method 3630C describes the use of silica gel to
remove polar, non-PH and naturally occurring compounds from the analysis. This
gel cleanup leaves only the hydrocarbons in the sample which is the analyzed
for bulk TPH. The silica gel used is a finer version  of the common ones found in clothing
accessories and using it in a gel column setup is most effective at removing
non-hydrocarbons. Quality controls using laboratory surrogates is also advised.
Cleaning up prior to bulk TPH analysis is ideal in determining the extent of
hydrocarbon impact, biodegradation locations and knowing where to focus
remediation activities.

Silica gel can also be used to fractionate samples into aliphatic and aromatic fractions; and the technique can be applied to all matrices. However, alternative fractionation method is suggested for volatile samples. The eluted fractions are then run on the GC instrument  to obtain information on the equivalent carbon ranges. It is good to note that fractionation is more expensive compared to bulk TPH analyses as it provides a more detailed information, removes non-hydrocarbons from the analyses and raises reporting limits.

Chromatograms provide information such as sample components, presence of non-hydrocarbons, presence of solvents, presence of non-dissolved hydrocarbons, poor integration and weathering. They can also be used to compare samples with interferents as shown below:

Chromatograms from the same sample collected at different times showing an unweathered sample (above with red asterisk) and weathered samples (below). (Image courtesy of ITRC, 2019)

Chromatograms from the same TPHd contaminated groundwater sample comparing analysis before silica gel cleanup (left image, TPHd=2.3mg/l)) and after silica gel cleanup (right image, TPHd = <0.05 mg/l). The hump centered around the C19 internal standards and the non-uniform peaks indicate the presence of non-hydrocarbons, as confirmed after silica gel cleanup. (Image courtesy of ITRC, 2019)

Methods used to analyze TPH in
contaminated samples can yield different results when compared with one another,
as well as the presence of non-petroleum hydrocarbons being quantified as TPHs.  To overcome this, use field methods such as
observed plume delineation during excavation, PID analysis of bag headspaces
and oil-in-soil analysis for semi-volatiles, as well as the CSM to get valuable
information, before using laboratory methods and chromatograms to confirm
conclusions made from the field observations.

ENVIRONMENTAL FATE OF TPH

Determining the environmental fate of
TPH is critical to understand how the vapor composition and dissolved plumes
differ from the source zone  due to partitioning
and transformation processes. TPHs partition to vapor as well as water. When
partitioning to vapor, the smaller hydrocarbons are more volatile and therefore
dominate the vapor composition. A more complex process is involved when TPH is
partitioning to water because the smaller hydrocarbons are more soluble, based
on their molecular structure. Aliphatic hydrocarbons are less soluble compared
to the aromatics which are likely to dominate the soil water fractions. TPH
weathering on the other hand, contributes exceedingly to TPH mass reduction in
the environment may be due to aerobic or anaerobic biodegradation processes in
the soil or photooxidation processes; to generate petroleum metabolites which
may be further degraded. Petroleum metabolites produced have oxygen atoms in
their molecules, making them polar in nature and partition preferentially in
water. These metabolites are measured primarily via TPH analysis without silica
gel cleanup, and are identified using chromatogram patterns, understanding the
solubility of the parent compound and using CSMs maps. most TPH components
found in groundwater are metabolites and their toxicity characteristics are
usually different from their parent compounds.

The use of TPH fraction approach with
fractionation methods is considered best for assessing TPH risks because it
provides accurate hydrocarbon quantitation along with the toxicity values as
well as the chemical or physical parameters involved. To determine the
fractionation composition in a TPH, the fuel composition and the weathering
conditions are determined.

For example, Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (NAPL) undergoing weathering process overtime will first have the mobile hydrocarbons partition out while at the same time, further NAPL depletion will occur with the generation of metabolites  by continual biodegradation. There is the migration of vapor plumes to thin zones around the NAPL as well as heavily impacted media due to aerobic degradation in the unsaturated zone. Contaminated ground water could be made up of mostly small aromatic hydrocarbon fractions, some small aliphatic hydrocarbon fractions as well as medium aromatic hydrocarbon fractions.

Along a groundwater flow path, a differential fate affects the TPH composition which in turn affects the exposure.

Fate of TPH composition in Groundwater. (Image courtesy of ITRC, 2019)

TPH
 composition changes along the path of
flow  could be due to:

  • – differential transport and sorption of individual hydrocarbons,
  • – different susceptibilities of hydrocarbons to biodegradation and
  • – different redox zones along the path of flow.

On the other hand, bulk TPH composition show highest hydrocarbon concentrations near the surface and diminish downwards along the gradient while the metabolites generated via biodegradation, increase in concentrations downgradient of the source area and highest parts of the dissolved hydrocarbon plume. Over time, metabolite concentrations may increase near source, shifting the apex of the triangle to the right.

ASSESSING HUMAN AND ECOLOGICAL RISK
FROM TPH

TPH risk assessment is done in three
tiers where the first tier is a screening-level assessment; and the  site-specific assessment comprises the second
and third tiers.

Screening-level assessment involves
preliminary CSM development (source characterization and initial exposure
pathway assessment) and initial data review (regulatory requirement evaluation,
existing TPH data review).

Site-specific assessment involves more
detailed assessment which includes the identification of data gaps from data
obtained from screening-level assessment and collecting additional field data
such as bulk TPH  data and chromatograms,
indicator compounds and fractions, and CSM updates.

An environmental risk assessment may
not be necessary if viable habitats are absent at the TPH contaminated site, if
no contamination is found below the root zones and below the burrowing zones of
ecological receptors; and there is no potential release of the contaminant to
nearby viable ecological habitats. However, risk assessment is necessary if it
is a regulatory requirement, if the screening level values are available and if
the available levels are appropriate for the site conditions or the type of
release.

Site-specific assessment, therefore,
is required when screening levels are lacking or exceeded; and at complex sites
with multiple media, sensitive habitats and receptors. Such an assessment  should focus on direct exposure,  contaminant bioaccumulation and toxicity
assessment which evaluates the ecological risk, physical and chemical toxicity
effects and the metabolites produced.

STAKEHOLDER CONSIDERATIONS

The stakeholders involved are affected
property owners or communities with regard to the risks that are specific to
petroleum contamination as measured by TPH. Communicating with them requires sensitivity
and a timely approach  in order to help
them understand facts and clear their confusions and concerns about TPH risk
assessment. This could be done through factsheets, posters, outreach meetings,
websites and internet links on TPH information. There should be public
notification prior to sampling as well as the provision of post sampling TPH
data results with appropriate explanations.  Technical information and public health issues
should be translated and communicated in a format that is easily understood by
the general public.

Similar sensitivity should be shown to
other TPH assessment impacts to public property, including property value,
access, and private property rights. A major concern is the fear of property
devaluation as a result of possible residual TPH and a Monitored Natural
Attenuation (MNA) remedy. The fears can be effectively addressed by explaining
why the selected remedy is protective and effective (especially MNA), describing
how all activities are done with agency oversight (that is local organizations
and government agencies); and individual property owners concerns  should also be addressed.

Overall, a successful TPH risk
evaluation project requires an appropriate technical approach, careful review
of analytical methods chosen, a complete CSM with regular updates during
remediation as well as stakeholders’ engagement.

U.S. Ecology Inc. and NRC Group agree to Merge

US Ecology, Inc. (Nasdaq-GS: ECOL) recently announced that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement with NRC Group Holdings Corp. (NYSE American: NRCG), a company that provides comprehensive environmental, compliance and waste management services to the marine and rail transportation, general industrial and energy industries, in an all-stock transaction with an enterprise value of $966 million.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2019. The transaction will create a company specializing in industrial and hazardous waste management services.

U.S. Ecology Inc. owns the Stablex hazardous treatment facility and landfill in Blainville, Quebec.

Stablex diposal cells

“The addition of NRCG’s substantial service network strengthens and expands US Ecology’s suite of environmental services,” said Jeffrey R. Feeler, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of US Ecology. “This transaction will establish US Ecology as a leader in standby and emergency response services and adds a new waste vertical in oil and gas exploration and production landfill disposal to further drive waste volumes throughout the Gulf region.”

Headquartered in Great River, New York, NRC operates from over 65 offices and facilities throughout the Pacific (including Alaska and Hawaii), Southwest, Southeast, Atlantic, and Northeast regions.

As a nationally-recognized Oil Spill Removal Organization, NRCG generates a recurring, compliance-driven revenue stream, with upside from spill events and international expansion, particularly in Mexico and Canada.

NRCG is one of two leading national Oil Spill Removal Organizations (“OSRO”) that provide mandated standby emergency response for the transportation of oil products.  With more than 50 service centers, NRCG has a national service network providing emergency and spill response, light industrial services, hazardous and industrial waste management and transportation services.  From a growing base of disposal assets in the two key oil basins in the Gulf region, the Permian and the Eagle Ford, NRCG provides landfill disposal of waste from oil and gas drilling, treatment and handling of residual waste streams and rental and transportation services to support its disposal operations.

The combined company will use the US Ecology name, and its shares will continue to be listed on the Nasdaq Global Select Market under the ticker ECOL.  Jeffrey R. Feeler will continue to serve as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Directors.

Husky Oil fined $2.7 million for oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River

Husky Oil Operations Limited recently pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Canadian Fisheries Act and one count of violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 in a Saskatchewan court.

The company was ordered to pay a fine of $2.5 million for violating the Fisheries Act and a fine of $200,000 for violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. The fines will be directed to the Government of Canada’s Environmental Damages Fund and will be used to support projects within the North Saskatchewan and/or Saskatchewan River and their associated watersheds related to the conservation and protection of fish and migratory birds.  

The charges related to an incident that occurred between July 20 and 21, 2016, when an estimated 225,000 litres of blended heavy crude oil leaked from a Husky Oil Operations Limited pipeline. Approximately 90,000 litres of the oil entered the North Saskatchewan River near Maidstone, Saskatchewan. The oil was found to be deleterious, or harmful, to fish and migratory birds.   

Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Environmental Emergencies Centre (NEEC) responded to the July 2016 spill. Environmental emergency officers were onsite from July 22, 2016 until early October 2016 to provide regulatory oversight and guide efforts to protect the environment. A year after the spill, in 2017, and once again in 2018, NEEC’s Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team returned to the North Saskatchewan River to assess the water and shorelines following the spring ice breakup.

Clean-up Activities of the North Saskatchewan River

The spill resulted in a number of communities having to stop taking water from the North Saskatchewan River for drinking water purposes. The cities had to shut off their intakes and find alternate water sources after the oil plume from a Husky Energy pipeline spill moved downstream. The cities of North Battleford, Prince Albert, and Melfort were ordered by Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency to stop taking water from the river.

In addition to pleading guilty to offences under federal legislation, Husky Oil Operations Limited has pleaded guilty to one count under the provincial Environmental Management and Protection Act, 2010