A photo taken by Ministry of Environment inspectors on Nov. 22, 2018. The photo shows manure runoff on the south side of the storage facility. Ministry of Environment.

Trustees ask for more help after tearful meeting on B.C. school’s ‘toxic’ stench

Enforcement has ‘no teeth,’ school trustee says, while kids become sick

Shannon Gaudette stood in front of Abbotsford’s board of education and passionately expressed the health concerns she and many other parents have for the children at King Traditional Elementary. By the end, she was fighting back tears.

“Students are consistently feeling unwell, getting sick to their stomach, reporting that their stomachs hurt, headaches, not wanting to eat their lunches, covering their faces with their coats and sweaters when they are outside and breathing,” Gaudette said at the meeting on Tuesday.

“[The company] is well aware of the negative effects their operation is having… but they just don’t seem to care.”

The two-and-half-year toxic stench saga, stemming from the manure composting facility across the street, has trustees feeling like they’ve tried everything to get the Ministry of the Environment to help.

The facility, operated by 93 Land Company, has received four warnings of non-compliance and two monetary penalties totalling $29,000 for improper storage and importation of manure since buying the property in March 2017. The most recent fine was on June 17, which was paid shortly after it was received.

Environment Minister George Heyman himself has called the operation “illegal,” but the department’s enforcement policy is centered around voluntary compliance.

“Which means there’s no teeth,” said school board vice-chair Rhonda Pauls. “I think back to Erin Brockovich and I think, where’s the case history that says we know that children are safe in that environment?”

RELATED: Toxic smell returns to Abbotsford school, raising health concerns for kids, teachers

At Monday’s meeting, trustees voted to write to the education ministry, asking it to pressure the Ministry of Environment to step up enforcement.

“While we’re not in the same situation as the students, parents, community and teachers, there is a collective frustration here,” said chair Stan Petersen. “We haven’t been able to get other ministries to take care of it. Maybe we can get the one most closely connected to us [to act].”

A Nov. 13 letter to parents says the company has “shown a strong willingness to comply” and that the province its reviewing its application for a waste discharge permit to legalize their operations.

But the most recent inspection, on Nov. 24, found 93 Land Company was still in violation of the Environmental Land Management Act.

RELATED: Abbotsford parent OK with manure facility near school getting permit

The symptoms that kids and staff are reporting are similar to those reported by farmer workers when exposed to manure, according to the National Collaborative Centre for Environmental Health.

School staff have filed a total of 14 claims to WorkSafeBC.


@portmoodypigeon
patrick.penner@abbynews.com

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