Fly ash from Metro Vancouver's waste-to-energy plant is routinely shipped to the Cache Creek Regional Landfill

Cache Creek mayor wants toxic incinerator ash gone

Covanta didn't flag failed tests after tardy delivery: memo

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta is demanding the removal of nearly 2,000 tonnes of hazardous waste ash that he says was illegally sent to the regional landfill his village hosts from Metro Vancouver’s Burnaby incinerator.

Fly ash from the waste-to-energy plant’s scrubbers had higher than allowed levels of leachable cadmium in July and August but was shipped to the Cache Creek landfill because incinerator operator Covanta was slow to report the test results.

“An inappropriate substance has been deposited in there,” Ranta said. “Whoever is responsible should have the material removed.”

Metro officials have said they are working with the environment ministry to determine whether the deposited fly ash must be removed.

Some of the tested samples contained more than double the concentration of cadmium B.C. allows for dumping in municipal landfills.

Ranta said the landfill isn’t licensed to accept hazardous waste and it was “simply wrong” for it to be sent there, putting landfill workers and the local environment at risk.

Cache Creek residents don’t take such matters lightly, Ranta said, noting they blockaded the Trans Canada Highway to keep millions of dead chickens from being dumped there during the avian flu outbreak of 2004.

Covanta has apologized for the reporting error, saying it was not intentional.

Fraser Valley Regional District politicians say the incident underscores why they don’t trust Metro’s drive to build a new waste-to-energy plant.

“Ultimately this is Metro Vancouver’s responsibility,” FVRD vice-chair Patricia Ross said. “They let this slip through the cracks. This does not give us any confidence whatsoever.”

She noted the incident might never have been discovered or made public had landfill operator Wastech not realized in late September that the usual test results had stopped arriving and demanded them.

When Covanta did hand over the results they did not flag the failed readings, according to a Wastech memo to Metro staff obtained by Black Press.

“The company (Covanta) made no mention of the irregularity in the test results and made no mention of concern with the hazardous waste material sent to the Cache Creek landfill,” the Wastech memo said.

It also reveals that it was Wastech’s decision, not Metro’s, to suspend all deliveries of fly ash to the landfill on Sept. 26 over safety concerns.

Metro has instead been sending incinerator ash to a Hinton, Alberta landfill, after staging some of it initially at the Annacis Island sewage treatment plant.

Subsequent loads of fly ash have tested within limits and Covanta is working to determine whether the exceedances were due to a testing error or the problems with the method used to stabilize the cadmium in the ash.

Cadmium is a carcinogenic metal found in batteries and some plastics.

The Burnaby incinerator burns 285,000 tonnes of garbage per year.

Covanta is one of the expected bidders to build a new waste-fired plant, expected to handle 370,000 tonnes per year.