Hudson's Bay fined $765K for releasing PCBs in St. Lawrence River
May 2011 incident resulted in 48 kilos of pollutants spilling into the river
The Hudson's Bay company was fined $765,000 for illegally releasing pollutants into the St. Lawrence River, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada said Friday.
Prosecutor Frédéric Hivon told CBC the incident happened in May 2011, when electric transformers on the roof of the company's store in downtown Montreal broke and 146 kilograms of PCBs spilled out, 48 of which ended up in the river.
"When the transformer broke, some employee went on the roof and they decided to clean. So they took a water hose and it went in the drain," said Hivon.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are industrial chemicals that have been used in electrical, hydraulic and other equipment since around 1929.
Their release into the environment was made illegal by Canada in 1985.
Hudson's Bay fined $765,000
Canadian law, however, permits the continued use of the chemicals inside equipment until the end of their service life.
"They had the right to have those transformers on the roof," said Hivon. "Before they replaced them, the accident happened."
He explained that it was a criminal claim under the Environmental Protection Act. In 2011, the maximum fine for this infraction was $1 million.
"The offence happened just before the change of the law and the change of the fine," said Hivon.
The company was fined $600,000 for the infraction, another $60,000 for waiting three-and-a-half days to inform the government, another $60,000 for not taking proper measures to prevent the accident, and three fines of $15,000 for failing to produce monthly reports.
Tiffany Bourré, the director of communications for the company, wrote in an email that Hudson's Bay "took quick and transparent action in collaboration with all appropriate environmental agencies to contain and remediate the spill when it occurred in 2011."
A warning to others
Alexandre Joly is in charge of scientific research at Fondation Rivières. He told CBC that this decision "will send a message to other companies."
He says that in order to avoid situations like this, there should be a firm cut-off for the use of machinery containing PCBs.
"The law regarding the PCBs dates back to the 70s and 80s, so at the very least this equipment is 30 years old," said Joly.
"It becomes kind of a loophole where you can stretch the notion of a 'life cycle.'"
With files from The Canadian Press and Simon Nakonechny