Scrubbers at Metro Vancouver's waste-to-energy facility remove metals like cadmium before they go up the stack. But the ash collected was found to exceed provincial limits in July and August.

Scrubbers at Metro Vancouver's waste-to-energy facility remove metals like cadmium before they go up the stack. But the ash collected was found to exceed provincial limits in July and August.

Incinerator firm slow to tell Metro of failed ash tests

Ash contained at Cache Creek landfill after cadmium levels exceeded provincial limit this summer

Fly ash from Metro Vancouver’s garbage incinerator that tested high in toxic cadmium in July and August has been contained at the Cache Creek landfill.

But Metro officials say they’re still trying to determine why waste-to-energy plant operator Covanta Energy was slow to inform the regional district of the test failures.

About 2,000 tonnes of the fly ash, which is particulate collected from scrubbers that keep toxic metals from going up the stack, was trucked to the Interior landfill.

Provincial regulation requires the ash pass two different tests to ensure it can be safely dumped at a landfill.

Solid waste manager Paul Henderson said there was a range of sample results, but the highest cadmium readings were more than double the provincial limit.

“It wasn’t marginally over the limit, they were substantially over the limit,” he said.

The main test, done at the end of each month, usually comes back with results within three weeks.

But Metro wasn’t informed of both failures until Sept. 26 – about a month later than should have happened for the failed July test results and a day after Cache Creek landfill operator Wastech noticed the results were late and demanded the data.

“We’re working closely with Covanta to understand what happened with regard to those communication issues,” Henderson said. “They’ve told us to date there was human error in the communication.”

Cadmium exists in minute quantities in municipal garbage, from sources such as batteries, dyes and some films and plastics, Henderson said.

Environment ministry officials will decide whether the ash that was trucked to Cache Creek can stay there or has to be taken to a special waste facility.

Subsequent tests on it there found most of the sampled material is within provincial limits.

Every truckload of fly ash produced at the Burnaby incinerator since Sept. 25 has been individually tested and found to be within limits, Henderson said.

But Metro took the added precaution of shipping it to a landfill near Hinton, Alberta until more is known.

Henderson said it didn’t make sense to pile in more new ash at Cache Creek if it’s decided the July and August shipments require special treatment.

He said Metro doesn’t believe the local environment or the Wastech workers at Cache Creek were at risk, but added both Metro and the landfill operator want to ensure no ash is ever delivered again that exceeds limits.

It’s the first time in 12 years incinerator fly ash samples failed testing.

Air emissions from the Metro incinerator have always been within operating limits and are not affected by the fly ash incident, Henderson said.

Covanta Energy said in a statement it believes the summer failures were an “aberration” and the fly ash sent to Cache Creek should not be considered hazardous waste.

The firm said it’s checking its ash-conditioning process to ensure it’s working properly and there are no future problems.

“We deeply regret this event and are working to resolve this lapse in communication,” the statement said. “At no time was information related to this issue purposefully withheld.”

Surrey Coun. Marrvin Hunt, who sits on Metro’s zero waste committee, said fly ash from the initial years of the incinerator’s operation went to the long-closed Coquitlam landfill until approval was gained to send it to Cache Creek.

He said fly ash typically hardens into a cement-like material that should pose no hazard at Cache Creek.

“The greatest concern is the lack of timely reporting,” Hunt said.

Washington State landfill operator Rabanco – which has repeatedly tried to land Metro Vancouver as a customer – said its Roosevelt Regional Landfill has a special cell for incinerator ash and could accept Metro ash shipments by rail, eliminating the need for it to be trucked to Alberta.

Just Posted

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 20

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

UFV athletes were honoured for their strength and perseverance during the pandemic. (UFV photo)
Fraser Valley athletes recognized in year without sports

UFV Cascades athletes honoured for strength shown during the pandemic

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

(file)
Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

Most Read