Metro Vancouver's Waste-to-Energy Facility. Failed tests for cadmium of its fly ash has resulted in the material being shipped to Alberta instead of the Cache Creek landfill since September.

Metro Vancouver's Waste-to-Energy Facility. Failed tests for cadmium of its fly ash has resulted in the material being shipped to Alberta instead of the Cache Creek landfill since September.

Lab error may be behind failed incinerator ash tests: Metro

Regional district officials want to re-test failed samples after inconsistent results

Metro Vancouver now suspects lab errors may be to blame for the recent failed tests of fly ash from its Burnaby garbage incinerator and that the material may not be hazardous after all.

The regional district and the provincial environment ministry have been weighing whether to dig up and remove ash buried at the Cache Creek regional landfill after failed tests in July and August found leachable cadmium levels above the permitted limit for disposal there.

More frequent testing had been underway since the summer failures came to light in late September and had not turned up any more exceedances – until last Friday, when Metro was informed another fly ash sample taken last week also failed.

Metro solid waste manager Paul Henderson said the sample was retested and passed the second time, leading him to doubt the accuracy of the lab’s so-called TCLP test for leachability.

“The lab confirmed there’d been an error in that sample that previously showed as failed,” he said. “It showed us absolutely there’s a possibility of failure of the TCLP test.”

Henderson said there’s now a “strong possibility” lab testing error was the cause of all the failures.

“We think it’s important information that really leads us to further investigation before any conclusion that the material is hazardous and needs to be removed.”

He’s recommending re-testing of older failed samples by a new lab to help determine if lab error was to blame in those cases as well.

Testing error had been considered one possible cause of the failures, as well as a possible problem with the ash treatment process that left too much leachable cadmium behind.

Treatment is supposed to render toxic metals in the ash inert so they can’t leach into the environment around Cache Creek, if the landfill’s liner were to fail.

Since Sept. 27 – when incinerator operator Covanta belatedly informed the Cache Creek landfill operators of the failed summer tests – the fly ash has been shipped to a landfill near Hinton, Alberta.

Ash deposited at Cache Creek landfill since mid-2010 is in a dedicated cell with its own liner and a separate leachate collection system.

TCLP testing so far on the 1,800 tonnes of ash sent there in July and August had found a five per cent failure rate and plans are underway to begin testing older ash dumped there over the past two years.

A separate pH test of each load of ash leaving the incinerator to flag high levels of metals – done as a surrogate for the main TCLP test – has consistently come back within limits.

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

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta said he wants to get to the bottom of the testing concerns, adding he hasn’t yet seen compelling evidence that’s to blame.

“If the lab results are that inconclusive that we can do a test, find it exceeds the limit and do another test and find it passes, then what about all the other tests that have been done from 2000 to the present day saying it passed?” he asked.

“Should we be re-testing that and maybe find that some would fail?”

He also wonders if the samples to be re-tested are different in any way from the originals that failed.

The environment ministry has so far taken the position that no ash needs to be removed from Cache Creek.

Shipping ash to the Hinton-area landfill is costing Metro an extra $50 per tonne, potentially adding up to an extra $500,000 per year if it continues indefinitely.

Henderson said Metro wants Covanta to pay for the extra costs.

The toxic ash tests had prompted fresh criticism in recent weeks from Fraser Valley politicians, who oppose Metro plans to build a new waste-to-energy plant burning 370,000 tonnes of waste per year – 30 per cent more than the Burnaby incinerator.

Covanta is one of the expected bidders in the procurement process that got underway this fall.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ken Dockendorf is rallying opposition to the changes to high school sports governance. (The News files)
Maple Ridge coaches oppose changes to high school sports governance

Vote coming on May 1 could change varsity sports across B.C.

Students in Garibaldi secondary’s music program rehearse for Swing into Spring. (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge high school adding a spring to their step

Swing into Spring concert to raise money for the Garibaldi secondary’s music program

In a 2019 photograph, Yin Yin Din held a picture of her brother Kyaw Naing Din, 54, and her late father Hla Din who passed away in 2014, during a trip to Victoria. (The News files)
Family of Maple Ridge man killed by cop appeals to Attorney General for help

The Din family want B.C. Attorney General David Eby to forward their case to Crown

Maple Ridge's Doug Ubell caught some photographs recently that he was anxious to share, one taken while on the Trans-Canada Trail looking southwest towards the Pitt River Bridge, and another from on Golden Ears Bridge. (Special to The News)
Traffic on Golden Ears Bridge returning to pre-pandemic levels

Commuters from Langley, Pitt Meadows, and Maple Ridge still driving more, taking transit less

A sign to students outside Pitt Meadows secondary. The school is not currently listed by Fraser Health as having COVID-19 exposures. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Four more Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows schools exposed to COVID-19

Cases at three public schools and Maple Ridge Christian

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Of 46 arrests made between March 16 and 19 at Metrotown mall in Burnaby, 27 suspected shoplifters are now facing charges. (Twitter/Burnaby RCMP)
RCMP arrest 46 people in 4 days during Metrotown shoplifting crackdown

$4,800 in stolen merchandise was recovered and returned to businesses inside of the mall

Kao Macaulay has been charged in relation to a home break-in on March 30 in Abbotsford in which five kittens were stolen. (Facebook photo)
‘Prolific offender’ charged with theft of 5 newborn kittens in Abbotsford

Kao Macaulay, 23, is accused of breaking into home on March 30

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions (Screen shot)
Minister of mental health tells Surrey audience COVID-19 ‘has made everything worse’

More than 23,000 people in B.C. are receiving medication to treat opioid addiction

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Most Read