Monday, July 29, 2013


Yesterday I read a story on the Cambridge Advocate website that was taken from the Huffington Post, an on-line newspaper. The author is Maude Barlow and the subject matter is the horrendous rail disaster in Lac Megantic, Quebec. According to Maude the easy way out for the company and government is to lay sole blame on the engineer. The reality is a little more complicated. Apparently Transport Canada, just last year gave that railroad company permission to operate trains with but a single employee on board. In this case that meant one engineer in charge of 72 rail cars and five engines carrying hazardous materials.

There may well be a parallel here. The Walkerton tragedy was not solely caused by the Koebel brothers. Yes there were human failings but there had also been massive cuts at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment which contributed. Essentially all levels of authority from provincial to municipal to supervisory failed and the results were catastrophic.

One other thought has come to my mind and that is the environmental cleanup. Apparently the crude oil from the ruptured tank cars ended up both on land and directly into the nearby river. This is a golden opportunity, with everyone focused on the huge loss of life, to take shortcuts with the cleanup. The time is right now to do the proper job. Crude oil is not an LNAPL or light non-aqueous phase liquid. It is a DNAPL or dense non-aqueous phase liquid which means that it will sink through the water table and saturated soil until reaching a somewhat impermeable surface and then begin to flow horizantly depending on the gradient. In other words the DNAPL will gravity flow as long as there is a slope to follow. Here in Elmira, Ontario we are still learning decades later of the consequences of allowing DNAPLS to roam from a contaminated site further afield onto neighbour's properties. As unlikely as the 2028 mandated restoration of the Elmira Aquifers will be, it is the spread of DNAPLS both onto the Yara (Nutrite) property and further south past the Varnicolor property that greatly complicates matters.

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