The Quebec government will be taking over the clean-up operations of the Pointe-Claire site contaminated by PCBs, announced Environment Minister Yves-François Blanchet today.

"We are taking control of the site as of right now," said the minister.

Blanchet said Reliance Power Equipment had failed to meet its obligations on the removal and decontamination of PCBs on its West Island property, and that the government would pay the $3-million cost to get the job done.

The minister had expressed doubts all along that the company would be able to pay to decontaminate the site, and today he said it was evident it wasn't going to happen. Still, he said, the Quebec government would try to recuperate some money from Reliance Power Equipment.

“I am not very confident that we will get all the money," Blanchet said.

"I am confident that we will send the bills. I am confident that we will ask people to take their responsibilities and I am confident that, facing this situation, we will improve the procedures and the powers we have in order to protect the citizens,” he continued.

If the company doesn't pay up, the minister said the government will sell the company's assets.

PCBs Reliance

Reliance Power Equipment is on Hymus Boulevard in Pointe-Claire, on the West Island. (CBC)

Pointe-Claire Mayor Bill McMurchie said he was pleased with the government's announcement.

“It provides assurance to our citizens and our community that the PCBs, which have been stored here illegally on the Reliance site, will be removed as quickly as possible," McMurchie said.

The removal will begin within 48 hours.

How the PCBs were discovered

The environment ministry found out about the presence of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) last March, after public works employees in Pointe-Claire detected an unknown substance leaking into the city's storm drains.

Vandalism was identified as a possible cause of the leak.

The government's ensuing investigation concluded that, not only had Reliance Power Equipment been illegally storing the chemical compound on its West Island property for 15 years, but that up to 1,200 litres of the substance had leaked into the nearby area.

PCBs were once used as a coolant and insulating fluid, but the import, manufacture and sale of PCBs were made illegal in Canada in 1977.

However, Canadian legislation has allowed owners of PCB equipment to continue using the equipment until the end of its service life.

Reliance Power Equipment was a company that reconditioned transformers that contained PCBs.

Improving corporate responsibility

Environment minister Blanchet said the Quebec government is looking to strengthen municipal and provincial procedures to prevent similar situations from happening, and to compel companies to pay for clean-ups. 

He said the government normally only intervenes when a clean-up is of an urgent nature.

“Are the procedures we have, both municipalities and the government, strong enough, powerful enough to prevent those events?” asked Blanchet.

“If it happened, it suggests there are improvements to be made.”