Some cleaning up remains to be done on Lemon Creek in southeast British Columbia following a massive jet-fuel spill last month, but environmental officials said on Monday that most of the other affected waterways are back to normal, with no lingering signs of the fuel.
The Ministry of Environment says crews are still recovering materials from the creek after 35,000 litres of jet fuel were spilled from a tanker truck on July 26. However, the ministry said tests indicate that the Slocan River, the Kootenay River and areas close to those waterways are clear.
“In the Slocan system and Kootenay systems, there is nothing detectable,” the ministry’s Brad McCandlish said. “There are recovery efforts still taking place in Lemon Creek, and the crews are still mobilizing product and capturing it in absorbent booms.”
The spill prompted an evacuation order, as well as do-not-use water restrictions. While no materials have been detected in the Slocan River and the Kootenay River since Aug. 1, the Interior Health Authority said it did not lift the bans until about a week later.
“As restrictions were lifted, I was aware that there would still be fuel present,” said Andrew Larder, senior medical health officer with Interior Health. “I was satisfied the amounts were relatively small, and they would be localized to specific sites, and that the cleanup process would contain that material.”
Dr. Larder said the remaining fuel poses a very low health risk and was not enough to justify upholding a blanket do-not-use water ban. He said water from the rivers is safe to drink as long as residents flush their water systems thoroughly.
“If people still can detect fuel vapour off of that, then we have been asking them to contact Interior Health so we can assess what is going on with their water,” he said.
Executive Flight Centre, the company that owned the tanker truck and has been co-ordinating spill response efforts, apologized for the accident on Monday. The firm’s senior vice-president of airport services, Wayne Smook, said the company immediately assembled a “small army of responders” who, since the spill, have been involved in the cleanup.
Mr. Smook said he expects recovery efforts to wrap up soon, and that he will be forwarding a plan to the Ministry of Environment on how to monitor Lemon Creek for any lingering effects.
He also said the company is awaiting findings from an investigation into the spill, and that it plans to change its operation procedures accordingly.
The tanker truck was on its way to fuel helicopters fighting a nearby forest fire when the truck flipped into Lemon Creek. The jet fuel spill has sparked outrage among the Slocan Valley community, and has prompted one resident to launch a lawsuit against the province and the company.
The lawsuit alleges that the spill has led to the death and departure of wildlife in the area, but the Environment Ministry said that aside from a small number of dead fish and birds found on the shoreline, there is no indication there has been a devastating impact on wildlife.
“I can say that I’ve been working on the Slocan River and Lemon Creek, and I’ve seen wildlife in both of those locations to a significant degree over the last three weeks,” Mr. McClandish said.