British Columbia

Slocan River water restrictions lifted after fuel spill

All remaining water restrictions on the Slocan River and Lemon Creek have been lifted, the Interior Health Authority announced, two weeks after a tanker truck spilled 35,000 litres of jet fuel into the river.
The truck carrying 35,000 litres of jet fuel had been on its way to supply helicopters battling wildfires when it spilled into Lemon Creek. (CBC)

All remaining water restrictions on the Slocan River and Lemon Creek have been lifted, the Interior Health Authority announced, two weeks after a tanker truck spilled 35,000 litres of jet fuel into the river.

Officials say the water drawn from the area can now be consumed and is safe for recreational purposes, but residents should thoroughly flush their drinking water and irrigation systems because there will be stagnant water in the lines.

The tanker was on its way to fuel helicopters fighting a forest fire in the area when it made a wrong turn and travelled down a closed logging road and tumbled into Lemon Creek on July 26.

The accident prompted the evacuation of residents, and do-not-use water orders as crews worked to clean up the spill.

Since the spill, some residents have complained of health problems including skin rashes, fumes in furniture and clothing and economic hardships.

'Dead zone'

It also prompted a Slocan Valley resident to file a lawsuit against the province and the company that owned the tanker truck, alleging the spill contamination has affected the shoreline and wildlife.

Winlaw resident Robert Kirk owns a 20 hectare property along the Slocan River, and alleged in the lawsuit that the river has become a "dead zone" after the accident.

"Since the spill, Kirk has observed the complete absence of wildlife from his property, except for a duck and a blue heron that have turned up dead," the lawsuit stated.

"Fuel is adhering to grass on the riparian bank of his property, rendering it a lethal habitat for wildlife."

The spill and contamination have affected property along at least 80 kilometres of shoreline and 10 kilometres of swamp land, said the statement of claim.

The lawsuit, which alleged negligence and nuisance, named the province of British Columbia and Executive Flight Centre, the company that owned and operated the tanker truck, as defendants.

"At the material time, the corporate defendants knew or ought to have known that the driver was an individual of 22 years of age and had limited work experience," the lawsuit alleged.

 

'Human carcinogen'

The fuel spill forced the evacuation of residents living three kilometres on either side of Lemon Creek and the Slocan River. As its peak, 2,500 residents were evacuated to avoid toxic fumes from the fuel.

"The vapour contains benzene, which is a human carcinogen," the lawsuit stated.

"With the evaporation of the vapour from the fuel, what remains in Lemon Creek, the Slocan River and the Kootenay River is a thicker, oily, jelly-like substance."

The lawsuit also alleged the province used aircraft to fight a forest fire with fuel-contaminated water, causing further harm.

None of the allegations in the statement have been tested in court.

The lawsuit seeks relief and an order requiring the defendants to meaningfully consult an independent environmental scientist with regards to ecological monitoring and remediation.

The defendants will have 21 days from being served to file a statement of defence, after which the plaintiff will seek to have the action certified.