White River oil spill puts First Nation on alert

Residents of Pic Mobert First Nation are concerned about how close they came to having the water supply contaminated by oil.

CP Rail train oil spill could have contaminated Pic Mobert First Nation's water supply

A Ministry of the Environment map of the train derailment site near White River, Ont. The accident happened just before 8 a.m. on Wednesday, when a Canadian Pacific freight train left the track and 22 cars were derailed. A tank car leaked several hundred litres of crude oil. (Supplied)

Residents of Pic Mobert First Nation are concerned about how close they came to having the water supply contaminated by oil.

The executive director of the community said he's relieved CP Rail was quick to contain the spill of more than 63,000 litres of crude oil, after a freight train left the track and 22 cars derailed.

Norm Jaehrling said the spill, which happened about 20 kilometres upstream from the community, could have been worse.

"It's a little bit of a wake-up call to remind us that we really need to be paying a little closer attention to what's passing by us every day," he said.

Jaehrling said he's relieved the water supply was not contaminated, but the accident raised some concerns. In the future, the community would like to know when dangerous materials are passing through.

"Internally, it's prompted us to have some deep discussions in terms of our state-of-readiness in the event of a derailment that [could be closer and] have a more significant impact on our community," he said.

The community has an emergency plan in place, but will now review it in the context of this incident. Meetings on the matter have already begun "to take a hard look at what is our state of readiness and what's our capability to respond."

Good communications ‘reassuring’

Jaehrling said the community has been fortunate to have an open dialogue with CP Rail.

"Communications have been good, so I think that's helpful," he said. "I think the offer from CP to provide us with testing results, both for ground water and for the soil that was impacted in the area, as they complete the remediation, [is] very important and reassuring for us."

The community has sent representatives from its health program to "take a look at the site to see for themselves," Jaehrling said.

"It's a significant topic of discussion. People are unsure what has happened and the extent to which the spill and the entire accident ... might impact the community. Without up-to-date, accurate information, things can get out of hand and people may sort of overestimate what has occurred."

Their concerns are justified. The initial reports indicated only several hundred litres of crude oil had spilled from the perforated tank.

"It turns out, as they got into the site … and started moving snow around and moving equipment around, there actually was more oil that had spilled then they had originally anticipated. Immediately we were quite concerned, because there's always a fear of oil spilled, migrating into the river or to the water system and we are downstream on the White River."

The rail line has since been reopened after repairs and mandatory track inspections.