Error causes investigation at seal-processing plant

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Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Provincial environment staff says it won’t happen again

It wasn’t a NASA rover crashing into Mars, but an error in units of measurement had staff with the province’s Department of Environment calling for an investigation at the seal-processing facility in South Dildo in 2013.

Wayde George handles pelts at the seal tannery in South Dildo. A lab report on effluent from the plant by the Department of Environment in 2013 was discovered to be in error . — Telegram file photo

It ended with an apology from government to the operator: Carino Processing Ltd.

Regular lab reports compiled by department staff specify what the company is releasing into the ocean area adjacent to the plant, in the form of liquid effluent.

The numbers come from tests on water samples, completed by a government-certified laboratory. The results are forwarded directly to the provincial government.

 

Reviewed periodically

They are reviewed periodically to see if they fall within strict parameters in which Carino must operate, with those findings then sent up the line in separate reports.

Going outside the set parameters can result in a shutdown of company’s operations and even legal action, with charges and fines.

While it would be rare for any company to go without occasionally exceding in wastewater parameters — too much ammonia on one test, or a high pH level on another, for example — the numbers being reported this summer on Carino tests from earlier in the year set off alarm bells, particularly in relation to levels of environmentally persistent and toxic hexavalent chromium in the month of April.

“It was well outside the regulations and well outside our normal operating standards,” said Dion Dakins, the CEO of Carino Processing Ltd., reached by phone in Beijing, China, Thursday.

He was at a loss to understand the test results as they were first presented to him by government staff in mid-August.

 

Review of operations requested

The Department of Environment requested the company immediately begin a review of its operations and identify problems with its wastewater management system.

Both Environment staff and Carino management then went back to the original lab reports, moving back page by page — an extensive trail of documentation — to figure out exactly what had gone wrong and when.

As it turns out, according to all concerned, there was no problem in the activities of the business, only in the decimal points of the record keepers.

“In this particular case, there was an error made by us transcribing the units,” said Martin Goebel, the province’s assistant deputy minister for environment.

 

“That prompted a reaction by us to the company,” Goebel  said. “But the error was very quickly discovered.”

The confusion was numbers being reported in micrograms and milligrams.

The Telegram obtained many documents reviewed by the province and Carino, through an access to information request. Those records are now available online.

The company, as a private business, could have challenged on public access to those requested records, but did not.

Goebel said the root of the number problem was identified and everything was sorted out with the company in a day or two following the upset caused by the lab report review.

“We did apologize for that,” he said.

“We’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

As for Carino, Dakins said he viewed the confusion as a test of the province’s established system for environmental protection, noting the paper trail wherein the problem was discovered would not necessarily be available in other regulatory environments.  

He added the company has an interest in doing whatever it can to keep its operations within the prescribed guidelines.

“We eat the products that come from the sea,” he said.

“We have no interest in polluting our omega 3 oils or meats.”

In addition to the regular reports on the plant’s waste, Carino has been subject to larger environmental effects monitoring studies.

One round of testing for such a study came in 2011. In reporting the results, AMEC Environment and Infrastructure stated the numbers “indicated that there was little if any impact to the marine environment” from the operation of the processing plant.

Sampling and analysis was repeated in 2013, with a final report unavailable as of deadline.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

 

 

Organizations: Department of Environment

Geographic location: Beijing, China

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