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Pointe-Claire company has a tumultuous history

Pointe-Claire company has a tumultuous history
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PCB Transformers in a compound at Reliance, a company on Hymus Blvd. in Pointe Claire. Old electrical generators are refurbished at the site and they have been storing PCBs, unknown to the public until an oil leak in March this year.

Photograph by: Phil Carpenter , Montreal Gazette

MONTREAL — The history of Reliance Power Equipment Ltd., the company revealed to be illegally storing hazardous waste laden with PCBs, goes back decades in Pointe-Claire — as does its contentious relationship with government officials who have tried to police it.

Pointe-Claire officials say they have worked for years to prevent the company from storing and handling transformers containing PCBs at its warehouse facility on Hymus Blvd. in Pointe-Claire’s industrial sector. The premises are close to a residential neighbourhood.

Nicolas Bouchard, Pointe-Claire’s director-general, says the city has been fighting with Reliance Power Equipment for almost 30 years.

The roots of the problem go back well before Quebec’s Environment Department ordered the Pointe-Claire company to dispose of all PCB-laden waste on its property following its investigation into a spill of between 800 and 1,100 litres of oily liquid containing high concentrations of PCBs into the city’s sewer system in March.

Bouchard said the company first opened in Pointe-Claire in 1967 as a warehouse for electrical equipment. In 1983, it applied to Quebec’s Environment Department to store and transform PCBs at the Pointe-Claire warehouse.

It was granted permission, he said, because at the time the city of Pointe-Claire did not have a bylaw to prohibit PCBs storage and transformation.

However, Pointe-Claire officials were concerned about the potential danger of PCBs and before the permit was granted by the department, Bouchard said, the city passed a zoning bylaw, in 1985, prohibiting the storage and handling of PCBs, in effect halting any operations of the sort at Reliance.

In response, Reliance took Pointe-Claire to court claiming, among other things, $1.5 million in lost revenue. But, Bouchard said, the city’s bylaw was upheld, first in Superior Court in 1999 and again in 2002 by the Court of Appeal.

As for after that, Bouchard said, “the facts are unknown” as to what was happening at Reliance and whether the site was being inspected in any regular fashion by municipal, provincial or federal officials.

“What we know is the file was known by both the provincial and federal governments as a site where PCBs were being stored,” said Bouchard. “But who should have acted upon it? And did they?” he was unable to say.

“There was an assumption that the company had complied with both federal and provincial regulations,” he said. “Those regulations, if they are not followed, ultimately lead to criminal charges.”
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