Cleanup continues on Slocan River

Slocan Valley residents unable to use their water following a fuel spill last month can now visit Winlaw elementary school.

Containment booms like this one at Perry Siding have been set up along the Slocan River to catch fuel from last week's spill into Lemon Creek.

Slocan Valley residents unable to use their water following a fuel spill last month can now visit Winlaw elementary school for access to water, showers, washrooms, and disaster relief personnel.

Executive Flight Centre, which owned the tanker that spilled its load of jet fuel into Lemon Creek, has opened what it calls a “community resiliency centre.”

The facility opened this morning. Hours for the showers and toilets are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. while disaster response services are available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But a Winlaw man says while it’s a nice gesture, it’s not really what affected residents need most.

“I don’t want to diminish it, but if they wanted to help us, our health should be monitored and finances made available to compensate us, because it was human-caused,” Michael Kaye told the Star. “The community wants hands-on help with their yards and animals that are badly affected.”

Kaye, who lives around the corner from the school, said he feels “abandoned, stranded, and abused” since the spill. Although he has a deep well and therefore his water was not affected, he says the fumes took a toll on his lungs, leaving him with a sore throat, headaches, and nausea.

“Nobody’s come to my door asking me how my health is. They need to go to each address, especially those closest to Lemon Creek.” (Interior Health says it is not going door-to-door, and tells residents to be wary of anyone doing so who claims to be with them. More on that below.)

Kaye said when visited the reception centre at 8:30 this morning he was the only resident there.

Rivers remain off limits

A Do Not Use order remains in effect for Lemon Creek, the Slocan River, and Kootenay River above and blow the Brilliant dam. Fuel is still visible in containment booms and along the shoreline.

Interior Health says in most cases, well water is not affected. However, shallow wells close to the creek or rivers, particularly those in gravel or sandy soils, may be affected. The health authority says residents shouldn’t use their well water if there is a fuel smell in the well or at any tap.

Garden vegetables, fruit, eggs, and dairy milk contacted by the fuel vapour are safe to consume as long as they don’t smell like fuel or have a fuel sheen, Interior Health said. But they recommend washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly — easier said than done given that many residents aren’t able to use their tap water.

Swimming and boating is also banned on the affected waterways until further notice, both due to the public safety hazard and the presence of the response teams and containment booms.

At a meeting last Tuesday, the health authority suggested it would be five to ten days before the Do Not Use order is lifted.

Potable water is available at fire halls in Winlaw, Passmore, and on Kennedy Road at Lemon Creek Lodge. The tanks are being filled three times per day. However, due to repeated vandalism, the tank at Crescent Valley has been removed.

Seeking volunteers

A volunteer coordinator is now seeking people to help with the disaster response. Duties include helping distribute information and monitoring water stations. If you’re interested, contact John Wittmayer at 250-226-7435 or slocan.valley.volunteers(at)gmail.com

Phoney inspectors

Interior Health says it’s had reports that people are misrepresenting themselves as health authority staff and offering water and air quality testing.

“Please by advised that Interior Health is only responding to inquiries for on-site assessments and is not proactively calling anyone,” they said in a statement issued over the weekend. “Residents should exercise caution if approached.”

All Interior Health staff have photo ID and will provide business cards. If you have any doubts, you can call 250-420-2220.

Shoreline clean-up team hire

Executive Flight Centre says it has hired Polaris Applied Sciences of Kirkland, wash. to conduct a shoreline clean-up and assessment, led by company principal Dr. Elliott Taylor.

Consulting firm Quantum Murray also has about 50 people working on the clean-up.

“Light ‘flushing’ activities are being conducted by responders to free jet fuel from stream banks and vegetation to make it available for collection,” an update issued Sunday said.

About 1,000 meters of containment boom has been set up on the Slocan River to capture any remaining fuel, which is then being skimmed off the water in a vacuum truck. Contaminated soil is also being removed and trucked away.

The update said a “significant” amount of water and soil has been removed, although exact numbers were not provided.

Another consulting company, SNC Lavalin, is collecting water and sediment samples, as well as dead fish and birds for analysis.

Key contacts

Executive Flight Centre: info@lemoncreekresponse.ca

Website: lemoncreekresponse.ca

Phone: 1-855-399-1694 (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

Regional District of Central Kootenay: 1-800-268-7325

Ministry of Environment: 250-354-6333

Interior Health Authority: 250-420-2220

Ministry of Agriculture: 1-888-221-7141

Ministry of Transportation: 250-387-3198

Claims inquiries: 1-800-880-8384