June 19, 2006

York municipality fined $50K for illegal sewage discharge

RICHMOND HILL, ONT-The regional municipality of York was fined $50,000 and levied a victim fine surcharge after pleading guilty to violating the Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA) by permitting the release of untreated sewage into Tannery Creek. York owns and operates a sewage pumping station that pumps raw, untreated sewage from the towns of Aurora and Newmarket (whose combined population is approximately 115,000) into a sewage treatment plant. The station is equipped with backup generators for use if the main electricity fails. On August 14, 2003, during a massive power failure that affected most of Ontario and parts of the northeast United States, the pumping station's backup generators failed for a period of time between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. As a result, sewage overflowed from the pumping station into the adjacent Tannery Creek. Although station staff succeeded in restarting the generators and bringing the overflow under control, the overflowing sewage contained significant levels of e-coli, which could have posed a serious human health risk, and concentrations of ammonia that were toxic to aquatic life. The overflow was also responsible for an oxygen depletion that asphyxiated fish and other aquatic life. The sewage travelled downstream to Fairy Lake, where hundreds of dead fish were found in the days following the overflow. Following an investigation, the Ministry of Environment charged the municipality with one count of permitting the discharge of a contaminant into Tannery Creek that had the potential to impair water quality, contrary to section 30(1) of the OWRA.

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