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British Columbia University of British Columbia fined $1.2-million for leaking ammonia into a creek

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The University of British Columbia and a Toronto-based refrigeration company have been fined $2-million in total by a provincial court judge for releasing ammonia into a fish-bearing stream on the school’s main campus.

Environment and Climate Change Canada touted the sentence handed out in a Provincial Court in Richmond, B.C., last Friday as proof Ottawa is effectively enforcing federal environmental and wildlife laws.

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The university was fined $1.15-million for “depositing or permitting the deposit” of water mixed with the potentially deadly chemical down a storm drain at its ice-rink complex on Sept. 12, 2014. The mixture then travelled into a tiny tributary of the Fraser River – a violation of the federal Fisheries Act – where 70 fish were later found dead, according to the environment department’s news release.

The court penalized the school another $50,000 for failing to “report the incident in a timely manner,” the release stated.

The statement says UBC is appealing the provincial court conviction and the fine imposed at sentencing last Friday, but the university would not confirm this on Tuesday.

“UBC counsel is currently reviewing the decision of the Provincial Court to determine possible next steps in this case," Kurt Heinrich, senior UBC spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “We will not be commenting further.”

The school had previously told the campus newspaper, The Ubyssey, that it responded within hours of the incident, co-operated with authorities and was reviewing the causes of the discharge.

Contractor Cimco Refrigeration was also fined $800,000 on Friday after pleading guilty to allowing the ammonia-tainted water to seep into Booming Ground Creek at UBC’s Point Grey campus.

Paul Jewer, executive vice-president and chief financial officer of Cimco’s parent company, Toromont Industries Ltd., declined a request for an interview on Tuesday afternoon, but said, in an e-mailed statement, that the company “sincerely regrets this unfortunate incident and [pleaded] guilty.”

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"At the time it occurred in 2014, we immediately took steps [to] improve our processes to prevent a similar situation from occurring. We continuously monitor our practices to ensure the safe handling and disposal of ammoniated water by our employees,” the statement said.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says the ammonia and water mix was left over after repairs to the arena’s refrigeration system. In the two days after the incident, federal officers and park rangers found roughly 70 dead fish in Booming Ground Creek, the department’s news release stated.

“The level of ammonia deposited in the water in the storm drain and ditch was analyzed and found to be harmful to fish,” the release stated.

The names of both the university and Cimco have been added to the federal Environmental Offenders Registry and the university is ordered to conduct five years of electronic monitoring of storm-water quality at the outfall where the release occurred.

Fines will be directed to the federal Environmental Damages Fund, which Ottawa says "provides a mechanism for directing funds received as a result of fines, court orders and voluntary payments to priority projects that will benefit our environment.”

Cimco was previously involved in a fatal ammonia leak at a municipal hockey rink in Fernie, B.C., that killed two arena workers and a company repairman in the early hours of Oct. 17, 2017. WorkSafeBC completed its investigation into the incident last summer and enforcement action is still under consideration, according to Ralph Eastman, the provincial agency’s senior spokesman.

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With a report from The Canadian Press

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