Nfld. & Labrador

Fuel slick off Labrador coast has residents fearing for food stocks

A sheen measuring about 13 square kilometres appeared near Postville on Monday, and officials aren't yet sure of the source.

Plane survey estimates slick at 13 square kilometres

A petroleum sheen near Postville in Labrador has residents concerned about the safety of local wildlife. (Jermaine M/Twitter)

A fuel slick off the coast of Labrador has officials scrambling to determine its cause and plan for a cleanup operation, as nearby residents fear for the safety of ocean wildlife commonly used for food.

Lela Evans, Torngat Mountains MHA, said it was an acrid smell that alerted the community to the large sheen in the Postville harbour Monday afternoon. 

Residents described a thick odour of diesel hanging over the community.

"They had to close their windows," Evans said. "It is a huge concern."

Lavern Broomfield lives right on the shore, and said he was hit with diesel fumes the second he opened his front door Monday morning. Out on the water, "you could see oily patches," he said.

An entire food chain that is important to Inuit survival has been poisoned- Jermaine Manning

A plane surveyed the spill and estimated it spans about 13 square kilometres, said Postville AngajukKâk Glenn Sheppard.

"That's not 23 litres of fuel. That's not 46 litres of fuel. That's a considerable amount of fuel that has been spilled or wasted from some source [that] right now is unknown," Sheppard said.

"Fuel doesn't [appear] in water from just out of mid-air. It doesn't happen that way. It doesn't come out of thawing or melting ice. It has to come from a source, and that source will be found out."

A tanker operated by Woodward Group docked in Postville over the weekend. 

CEO Peter Woodward told CBC News the tanker's crew had investigated the vessel, and reported that the fuel was used motor oil that ended up in the harbour through sewage drains and did not come from the tanker.

Makkovik resident Jermaine Manning, who has family in Postville, says she's frustrated that the company placed blame on the community.

"This was the only tanker … in the area yet this year," she said.

The sheen has washed up on the shores of Postville. (Submitted by Lavern Broomfield)

Manning also expressed dismay at the potential harm to sea life.

"An entire food chain that is important to Inuit survival has been poisoned," she said. "You even have people from other communities travel to this region because it's so rich."

Wildlife concerns

Sheppard said the slick has polluted an area crucial to local wildlife stocks.

"This is right in the midst of our food source … where our char, our birds migrate," he said.

Evans raised fears over the spill leaking into surrounding areas and affecting capelin, trout and whales and poisoning nesting birds and their young.

The Canadian Coast Guard's environmental response team has been dispatched to determine a clean-up plan and the effects on wildlife.

A spokesperson said a surveillance flight Monday observed 2,000 to 3,000 litres of "pollutant" on the water's surface.

By Tuesday, remaining visible amounts had dropped to 980 litres.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning