A spill of 35,000 litres of jet fuel wiped out an 80-kilometre stretch of shoreline along a creek and two rivers in southeast B.C., a lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleged.
Slocan Valley resident Robert Kirk filed the legal action as part of a potential class-action lawsuit for residents in the evacuation zone, prompted July 26 when a tanker truck tumbled off a logging road into Lemon Creek. Mr. Kirk owns a 20-hectare property along the Slocan River, and alleged in the lawsuit that the river has become a “dead zone” after the accident.
“Since the spill, Kirk has observed the complete absence of wildlife from his property, except for a duck and a blue heron that have turned up dead,” the lawsuit stated. “Fuel is adhering to grass on the riparian bank of his property, rendering it a lethal habitat for wildlife.”
The spill and contamination have affected property along at least 80 kilometres of shoreline and 10 kilometres of swamp land, said the statement of claim.
The lawsuit, which alleged negligence and nuisance, named the province of British Columbia and Executive Flight Centre, the company that owned and operated the tanker truck, as defendants.
In the statement of claim, Mr. Kirk alleged an ad hoc fuel depot was set up in an environmentally sensitive area without due care, and the spill created a dead zone. The tanker was on its way to fuel helicopters fighting a forest fire in the area when it made a wrong turn and travelled down a closed logging road and tumbled into Lemon Creek.
The lawsuit alleged the driver was trying to turn around and either drove off the road, or the shoulder of the road collapsed.
“At the material time, the corporate defendants knew or ought to have known that the driver was an individual of 22 years of age and had limited work experience,” the lawsuit alleged.
The fuel spill forced the evacuation of residents living three kilometres on either side of Lemon Creek and the Slocan River. As its peak, 2,500 residents were evacuated to avoid toxic fumes from the fuel.
“The vapour contains benzine, which is a human carcinogen,” the lawsuit stated. “With the evaporation of the vapour from the fuel, what remains in Lemon Creek, the Slocan River and the Kootenay River is a thicker, oily, jelly-like substance.”
The lawsuit also alleged the province used aircraft to fight a forest fire with fuel-contaminated water, causing further harm.
None of the allegations in the statement have been tested in court.
The lawsuit seeks relief and an order requiring the defendants to meaningfully consult an independent environmental scientist with regards to ecological monitoring and remediation.
“In order to remediate the contamination, every blade of grass will have to be washed by hand with absorbent material which itself will have to be safely removed from the environment. It will take at least six years to remediate the contamination,” the lawsuit said.
The defendants will have 21 days from being served to file a statement of defence, after which the plaintiff will seek to have the action certified.
On Friday, the Interior Health Authority lifted all of the remaining water restrictions, meaning water drawn from the area could be consumed and was safe for recreational purposes.
Since the spill, some residents have complained of health problems including skin rashes, fumes in furniture and clothing and economic hardships.