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Dozens of cars written off following B.C. chemical spill


CBC News

Friday, September 7, 2018, 1:51 PM - The Insurance Corporation of B.C. (ICBC) — the province's main auto insurance provider — is wading through some 2,500 insurance claims after two transport trucks leaving the Teck lead smelter leaked sulphuric acid earlier this year on the main highway through Trail, B.C.

Among the dozens of reported writeoffs are the City of Trail's year-old fire truck and and a fire command vehicle, worth a combined $1 million.

AM Ford Sales Ltd., a Trail car dealership, is reporting at least 40 vehicle writeoffs, and several other Trail residents say their vehicles are writeoffs as well.

However, ICBC said many of the customers are reporting claims as a precaution, because the potential for acid damage can be hard to predict.

Five months after the incidents, people in the area have a lot of questions about how the spills could have occurred and why they weren't told more.

A total of just under 300 litres was spilled, in and around Trail, on two separate days in April and May, with the earlier spill leaving a 16-kilometre smear of acid along Highway 3B that nearly reached the U.S. border. The second spill was six kilometres in length along the same stretch of road.

Residents say thousands of vehicles are believed to have driven through the spills during the hours the acid was present, and people are now determining the extent of the damage. 

The Trail fire department said it will miss its new truck.

"Engine 374 is our number one responding engine. It's definitely the workhorse of our fleet," said Capt. Greg Ferraby, with Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire Rescue. 

Ferraby said ICBC has written off the truck.


An acid testing station has been set up following the spills. B.C.'s public auto insurer, ICBC, is being overwhelmed by thousands of insurance claims related to damage from the industrial incident. (Bob Keating/CBC)

"Their big concern with our engine was the brakes themselves. When the electronics shut down, the whole truck shuts down," he said.

Ferraby added that more than half of the 20 firefighters at his hall have had their personal vehicles scrapped as well, due to the spills.

"My wife's vehicle and my vehicle are both written off. I had a brand new truck with 17,000 kilometres. My wife's had 20,000 and they are both being crushed."

TECK RESPONDS

In a statement released Thursday, Teck said it — along with Westcan Bulk Transport, and emergency services— promptly responded to the spills.

It said lime rock was used to neutralize the acid. The roadway was flushed with water, drains were covered and tests were conducted to confirm the acid was no longer a threat.

Teck said the acid from both spills was neutralized within hours while the road was closed to traffic.

Yet residents say dozens of vehicles are being written off.

Acting Trail Mayor Lisa Pasin said many people are still affected by the spill and are frustrated, wondering why information didn't come sooner.

"The City of Trail has no jurisdiction on the provincial highway, and we are disappointed at the amount of information that is forthcoming to the public," said Pasin.

'HIGHEST TRAFFIC IN WEST KOOTENAY'

Dan Ashman runs the AM Ford dealership just off the highway where the acid leaked. He said more than three dozen of his vehicles were damaged and are now writeoffs.

Some, he said, were brand-new vehicles that were being taken out for a test drive at the time. Others were trade-ins, brought to the dealership after the spills.

"It's unfortunate, but I have three new vehicles and 37 used, all going to be crushed [because] of this acid spill," said Ashman.

"It's not just Trail, it's the region. People who live in Castlegar work in Trail. You've got a corridor of 22,000 people. It's the highest traffic in the West Kootenay."


Ford dealership owner Dan Ashman stands near 40 vehicles set for demolition. He says all of them drove through the sulphuric acid. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Ashman said he and many others in the city are stuck in limbo waiting for their insurance claims to be processed, and they are frustrated by the lack of information about the spills coming from Teck, Westcan and ICBC.

In a statement, ICBC said it has dedicated a team of 30 staff to work on the file exclusively, in an effort to expedite the process.

ICBC also added that it's "too early to provide an estimated loss," and wouldn't comment on whether claims this large are going to affect rates throughout the province.

With files from Bob Keating

VIDEO: IBC TALKS EARTHQUAKE INSURANCE



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