About 2,500 people were told to evacuate the surrounding area after jet fuel was spilled, Dan Burritt reports
Officials in British Columbia's Central Kootenay region have lifted the evacuation order affecting about 1,500 people after a tanker truck tipped over and spilled 35,000 litres of jet fuel into Lemon Creek.
Residents are now permitted to return home, but are advised not to drink surface water — water from lakes and streams — for the next 24 hours.
"There will still be a 'do not drink' water order in place until we have the opportunity for Interior Health to do the testing and confirm that it is okay," said Regional Fire Chief Terry Swan.
The truck had been on its way to supply helicopters battling wildfires in the Perry Ridge area when the accident took place Friday evening along a gravel route in the Slocan Valley.
The driver of the tanker that crashed was sent to hospital with minor injuries, but no area residents have reported any medical concerns related to the spill, said Bill Macpherson of the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
Around 580 people had checked into emergency centres set up in three area schools, after some 2,500 people were told to evacuate their homes overnight over potential health and safety concerns, especially around fumes from the jet fuel.
Among those who left was Lil Meloche.
"Awful smell," said Meloche, 77. "That was bad… It's gone now, though."
Meloche stayed at a friend's home until about 9:30 p.m. PT Friday night, when she was allowed to return.
Highway 6 is also now open in both directions from the junction with Highway 3A to the junction with Highway 31A.
Macpherson says a hazardous materials crew from Vancouver helped to contain the spill after a 2-3 km plume was seen above the Brilliant Dam.
"Further testing downstream is ongoing, although sampling and visual evidence of air and water at several upstream junctions with the Slocan River indicate little odour and relatively clear sampling," he said in a statement.
Late on Saturday, the Ministry of Environment said there are were no more gas vapours in the area around Lemon Creek that would pose a hazard to residents, but said officers were studying the impact on the river bed.
"For the long term, the material will mostly evaporate [but]
some of it may actually… adhere to sediment that's in the water," said environmental emergency response officer Rick Wagner.
"We just want to ensure there's not a significant amount there that could cause harm to invertebrates in the water or the species that are feeding off of that," he added.
There will be a full assessment of river from ecological point of view as well as an examination of the water quality over the next few days.
In the meantime, Interior Health has issued a 'do not use' water order for residents who draw water from Lemon Creek, Slocan River and Kootenay River — downstream from the accident to the Brilliant Dam above Castlegar.
Residents drawing from wells are not impacted by the order.
'Lifeline for the valley'
Area resident Cheryl Cote says she is very concerned about the impact of the spill.
"The river is really important to our community. It's a lifeline for the valley," Cote said.
"The very people that have worked so hard to keep the river what it is are the people that are being affected," she said, noting that many people in the area have organic farms.
Wayne Smook, senior vice-president of airport services for Calgary-based Executive Flight Centre, said he hadn't spoken to the driver but understood that the truck rolled when the shoulder of the road collapsed.
He said the driver had to walk several kilometres down the gravel road to seek help.
"The focus now is on containment and clean-up," Smook said, adding that the company sent one crew to the scene Friday night and another was en route Saturday.
An official with B.C.'s Ministry of Environment said Executive Flight Centre would be responsible for cleaning up the fuel, known as Jet A1.
There were no reports of fish or wildlife affected, said the official, who added the spill was different from a tanker of crude oil being leaked into a waterway.
"It's like spilling gasoline on the street, it dissipates a lot quicker, whereas crude oil sticks," the official said.