Metro Vancouver is paying about $50 per tonne – potentially up to $500,000 a year – to ship fly ash from its Burnaby incinerator to a disposal facility in Alberta instead of to the Cache Creek landfill in the B.C. Interior.
And while Metro Vancouver is taking the position that any extra costs associated with shipping the material out of the province are to be borne by Covanta Energy, which operates the Burnaby incinerator, those arrangements have yet to be finalized.
"We understand there are some additional costs to ship to the Hinton landfill and those are being borne by Metro at this point in time," Matt Neild, facility manager for the Burnaby incinerator, said Tuesday. "The discussion about costs and apportioning those would be a conversation we would have in the future."
Metro has said it believes Covanta should foot the bill for shipping fly ash to an Alberta facility that is approved to handle hazardous waste. "Metro's position is that any additional costs would be Covanta's responsibility," Paul Henderson, Metro Vancouver's manager for solid waste, said Monday in an interview.
The potential cost dispute follows concerns about potentially hazardous waste being trucked to a landfill that was not built or approved to accommodate the material.
Fly ash is particulate matter left over from the incineration process. In October, the province launched an investigation after concerns that about 1,800 tonnes of ash shipped to the Cache Creek landfill had exceeded guidelines for hazardous materials, including cadmium.
As that investigation continues, fly ash is being shipped to a facility near Hinton that is approved to handle hazardous materials.
Provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake has said he is confident there is no risk to public health or the environment and that it was a "non-compliance" issue.
The facility handles about 280,000 tonnes of garbage per year, or about 25 per cent of the region's total, and produces steam and electricity.
On-site testing of individual loads of fly ash leaving the Burnaby facility showed normal readings, Covanta spokesman James Regan said Tuesday in an e-mail. "We are confident that none of the ash trucks leaving the facility exhibited a hazardous characteristic and that at this point, it is prematrue to conclude otherwise."
But laboratory results from samples collected in July and August showed different, potentially higher levels, prompting the review.
The potentially hazardous shipments came to light after Wastech, the company that runs the Cache Creek landfill, requested test results that did not show up when expected. That gap was the result of internal reporting problems at Covanta's Burnaby operation, Mr. Regan said in his e-mail.
"With regard to the reporting of the July/August 2012 composite test results, Covanta Burnaby's internal reporting procedures failed to properly communicate to stakeholders. We deeply regret this human error and have put redundancies and training in place to ensure that it does not happen again," Mr. Regan said.
The concern about potentially hazardous ash from the Burnaby incinerator comes as Metro Vancouver is considering another waste-to-energy plant in the region, where some municipal officials are against the idea over potential health and pollution concerns.