A Vancouver firm's
bid to test a revolutionary technology that could provide a solution to the
world's PCB problems was given initial support from Richmond's community safety
committee on Tuesday. The technology is being hailed as the 'holy grail
of decontamination' by Adrian Wade, who holds a doctorate in chemistry
and up until last year sat on the city's advisory committee on the environment.
Richmond's Adam Sumel, president and chief
executive officer of Vancouver-based Sonic Environmental Solutions Inc., hopes the city will approve his company's proposal to use a small 1,600-square-foot patch of land at 13511 Vulcan Way to prove to the provincial government that his firm's patented high-tech device and process is capable of literally shaking cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) free from contaminated soils. Currently, PCB-laced soils must be sent to one of two incinerators in Canada for disposal. But that process is expensive, requires the shipping of contaminated soils, and the high-temperatures
used in the incineration process results in the emission of dioxins, another ubiquitous toxic compound linked to cancer.
Sumel wants to
bring the clean-up solution to sites needing clean up, which would eliminate
the need to ship the special waste.
Sonic has developed
a unique process in which contaminated soil is first mixed with a solvent. This
mixture is then shaken to such a degree that it breaks up the soil and this
frees up the PCBs, which become suspended in the solution. The solution is then
treated in a well-established scientific process that results in the chlorine
component of the PCBs turning into harmless tablesalt.
Testing by one
of the world's leading engineering firms indicates PCB contamination can be
reduced through this process from the dangerous 50 parts per million (which
is defined by the province as special waste) down to below two parts per million,
which regulatory bodies in North America deem safe for use as industrial and
But Victoria wants
Sonic Environmental to prove its claims and demonstrate it can decontaminate
two tonnes (2,000 kilograms) of PCB-laced soil from Annacis Island. The province
plans to scrutinize and independently test the process.
The city is being
asked for a business licence that would allow for this soil to be shipped into
Richmond, treated, and then returned to Annacis Island.
Aside from the
city's environment advisory committee, which expressed no concerns, the Richmond
Health Department has indicated it 'does not anticipate any significant
issues from a health perspective,' according to a staff report written
by Suzanne Bycraft, manager of environmental programs.
Asked if bringing
this soil to Richmond places locals in danger, Sumel noted that he, his wife
and two children live in Richmond.
The amount of PCBs
in that soil amounts to what's found in two pre-1977 light fixture ballasts.
After PCBs were linked to cancer, the compounds were outlawed by the federal
government, but these light ballasts can still be found in older houses that
predate the ban. PCBs are also found in the dielectric oil found in transformers
and soil contamination resulted from these oils being accidentally spilled.
that he's not looking to turn the Richmond site into a permanent soil decontamination
facility. Rather, if the tests satisfy the province and his firm receives the
approval, Sonic will build a completely portable process that can be brought
to areas that require decontamination.
'We are the
solution to eliminate all that,' Sumel said of the millions of tonnes of
PCB contaminated soil in Canada. 'We're here to clean up the problem.'
Asked if Sonic's
process is proven, Wade said he has complete confidence in it.
Wade, who said
he wasn't paid or compensated in any way to speak to the community safety committee
on Tuesday, said Sonic Environmental's technical advisory board consists of
a who's who of the world's brightest chemists, including Coventry University
Professor Timothy Mason, the world
renowned leader in the specialized field of sonochemistry (the application of sound to speed up or modify chemical reactions).
top class people. These guys don't mess with stuff that doesn't work.'
Wade said he sees
a number of questionable business proposals every year that are based on what
he calls 'pseudoscience.'
'I have none
of those concerns with this process,' he said, calling the process an 'absolutely
massive' breakthrough for the decontamination of sites.
pitch was initally met with skepticism by Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, in
the course of about 30 minutes, he changed his tune.
Brodie said he
was satisfied this situation is different from the controversy that erupted
two years ago when a proposal surfaced to ship 400 truck loads of dioxin-laced
soil from Oregon to Hazco's East Richmond facility. (Sonic is leasing some of
Hazco's land for the test, but the relationship is
strictly landlord-tenant.) In that case, Richmond was dealing with someone else's problem. Sonic plans to bring in the contaminated soil, treat it, and then return it. The process will occur over a matter of weeks inside a secure $700,000 facility that shelters the process completely from
recommending the proposal, the community safety committee asked that Sonic provide
some form of indemnification to the city.
Sumel said he's
met with government officials who indicated that sometime this year, Ottawa
will require that all PCB-laced soil be remediated within a decade. The federal
government is planning to spend $3.5 billion to decontaminate lands, he said.
Eventually, Sumel hopes to bring this technology across Canada, into the United
States and around the world, including Europe and Japan.
Sonic is a publicly traded company listed on the TSX Venture Exchange.