British Columbia

UBC fined $1.2M for releasing ammonia into Fraser River tributary

Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued hefty fines to the University of British Columbia and CIMCO Refrigeration for releasing ammonia-laden water into a tributary of the Fraser River in Vancouver.

Environment Canada says the university is appealing the decision

UBC's Vancouver campus is near Pacific Spirit Park, which includes a tributary to the Fraser River. (Russ Heinl/CBC)

Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued hefty fines to the University of British Columbia and CIMCO Refrigeration for releasing ammonia-laden water into a tributary of the Fraser River in Vancouver.

According to a written statement, UBC was fined $1.2 million and CIMCO $800,000 stemming from a complaint about an ammonia odour at an outfall ditch connected to Booming Ground Creek in Pacific Spirit Regional Park on Sept. 12, 2014.

The ministry says UBC and CIMCO were fixing the refrigeration system at Thunderbird Arena at the university's Vancouver campus when they purged residual ammonia vapours from the system into a storm drain that flowed into a ditch and then the creek. 

CIMCO Refrigeration was also involved in a leak at an ice rink in Fernie, B.C., that resulted in the deaths of three people.

70 dead fish

Marko Goluza, regional director of the ministry's Enforcement Branch, says ministry officers and Metro Vancouver park rangers found about 70 dead fish in the creek in the next two days.

"I think [the fines] reflect the significance of the event," Goluza said over the phone, pointing out that the leak also presented a threat to human health. "That's why it became such a priority for our department at the time."

Goluza said CIMCO pleaded guilty to "depositing or permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance into an area that may enter water frequented by fish." The university was taken to provincial court and found guilty for the following offences:

  • Depositing or permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance into water frequented by fish.
  • Depositing or permitting the deposit of a deleterious substance into places that may enter waters frequented by fish.
  • Failing to report the incident in a timely manner.

The fines will go towards the Environment Damages Fund, which funds projects that benefit the environment. In addition to the fine, UBC must also electronically monitor storm-water quality in the area for the next five years. 

UBC files appeal

Both organizations have also been added to the Environmental Offender's Registry.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says the Fraser River has been identified as "being part of a classified water system with a high fisheries value."

The ministry says the university has filed an appeal against the convictions. UBC says now that the fine has been issued, it's reviewing its next steps.

CBC News reached out to CIMCO and UBC. The company did not respond.

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