Edmonton Journal

Banff derailment a warning sign

Critic says incident underlines possible perils to environmen­t

- REID SOUTHWICK

CALGARY — Fifteen Canadian Pacific rail cars fell off the tracks while crossing a bridge over 40 Mile Creek near Banff townsite early Friday with seven falling into the water below, spilling some of their contents.

The cars were loaded with lentils and fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired plants that has sparked the concern of officials at Alberta Environmen­t, who are overseeing the cleanup.

Authoritie­s installed a berm across the creek in an attempt to stop the ash from reaching the Bow River, which lies about 200 metres downstream.

Canadian Pacific spokesman Marty Cej said the company was still working with environmen­tal agencies to determine exactly how much cargo fell into the creek, but that they’d know more in the coming days.

David Schindler, an ecology professor at the University of Alberta, said fly ash, when mixed with water, can be “very toxic” for fish by increasing pH levels.

It also contains harmful trace metals that are released by coal combustion, he said.

“And if it gets wet, the high pH can kill any vegetation it lands on.”

While there may have been some biological effects at the lower reaches of the creek downstream of the spill, Schindler said, the Bow River would have diluted any remaining ash to “prevent any significan­t problems.”

Schindler, an academic leader in aquatic research, said in an email the impact likely would have been far worse if the spill were farther upstream of the river.

“Like the Obed spill a year ago, I think this is a warning not to be so cavalier about environmen­tal spills, whether they be from pipelines, trains or tailings ponds,” he said, referring to a big coal tailings pond spill in October 2013.

“Eventually we will have a spill in the wrong place and it will be disastrous.”

Parks Canada officials, who have been monitoring water quality, found a change in acidity levels Friday, but throughout the cleanup the levels have been returning to normal, spokeswoma­n Tania Peters said.

“That’s why we don’t think there is going to be any longterm environmen­tal impacts,” Peters said.

There were 27 train derailment­s in Alberta during the first 11 months of the year, higher than the province’s five-year average of 15, according to the Transporta­tion Safety Board. It was also highest among the provinces, with Ontario coming in second with 20.

Looking at the past five years, Alberta continued to lead the pack with 99 derailment­s, as British Columbia trailed closely behind with 93.

In Slave Lake, Mayor Tyler Warman called for an evaluation of the local rail line in September after the sixth derailment in five months.

Jim Pissot, director of the Wild Canada Conservati­on Alliance, said the spill in Banff serves as a glaring reminder of the risks of transporti­ng much more dangerous goods, such as petroleum products, through fragile wildlife habitats.

Pissot said government­s, emergency responders and railway operators must be adequately prepared for an “almost inevitable” derailment that would spill oil into the Bow River.

The conservati­onist said he has asked authoritie­s for years about the steps they have taken to ensure an “adequate and timely” response to control toxic spills, without a satisfacto­ry response.

“We have a warning now that it can happen; we’ve had warnings across the country that these things do happen,” he said.

“Banff National Park and the Bow River watershed are incredibly important to Canadians. And we ought to be doing everything we can to improve the safety ... and be able to respond quickly.”

CP Railway said in a statement it has a federally mandated emergency plan that officials “properly enacted” during Friday’s spill in Banff.

“That included immediate notificati­on to all the appropriat­e agencies, sharing of info with first responders and enactment of our emergency management plan,” the company said in the statement.

Parks Canada confirmed it was notified about the spill “right away” and was satisfied with the company’s response.

An investigat­or with the Transporta­tion Safety Board collected evidence at the derailment site to determine whether they will launch a more in-depth investigat­ion.

A decision is expected as early as Monday.

The derailed train’s spilled cargo poses potential problems for surroundin­g vegetation and wildlife, though Parks Canada does not expect there will be a long-term impact on the environmen­t.

Aside from the risks posed by ash, spilled lentils could attract bears, though Parks Canada officials don’t believe this will be an issue because bears should be hibernatin­g by now.

 ?? GAVIN YOUNG/ POSTMEDIA NEWS ?? There were no injuries and the cargo of lentils and fly ash was reportedly non-toxic when 15 cars derailed near Banff on Friday morning.
GAVIN YOUNG/ POSTMEDIA NEWS There were no injuries and the cargo of lentils and fly ash was reportedly non-toxic when 15 cars derailed near Banff on Friday morning.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada