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Feds halt pollution case against Metro Van, Province

An aging sewage treatment plant will continue to release PCBs and heavy metals into the Lower Mainland’s coastal waters without upgrades, say environmental groups who tried to prosecute the province and Metro Vancouver for polluting.

The case, launched by Ecojustice lawyers on behalf of the T-Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union and Georgia Strait Alliance, was halted yesterday by the federal government just months before it was to go to trial.

The groups allege that the Iona sewage treatment plant in Richmond, operated by Metro Vancouver and approved by the province, violated the Fisheries Act by releasing toxins into salmon-bearing waters.

In May, the Vancouver Sun reported that the Iona plant and two other sewage treatment facilities in the region have failed dozens of toxicity tests since 2001, but Environment Canada has laid no pollution charges.

“It’s a very strange situation,” said Christianne Wilhelmson of the Georgia Strait Alliance. “Everyone knows what’s going on but nobody wants to do anything about it. The government is supposed to enforce its own laws.”

Had the lawsuit proceeded, the province and Metro Vancouver could have faced a summary conviction charge of up to $2.4 million, based on allegations that Iona discharge toxicity violated the Fisheries Act on eight occasions, and the fact that the maximum charge under the act is $300,000 per day.

Metro Vancouver is currently updating its liquid waste management plan. A draft version projects a $1 billion cost for new or upgraded treatment facilities for Vancouver’s sewage, but did not specifically commit to any upgrades to the Iona plant.

In a press release the groups stated they would now focus on the public consultation for this plan.

Metro Vancouver’s waste management committee chair Marvin Hunt could not be reached for comment by deadline.

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