Langley Township fire chief Stephen Gamble says his department calls on private contractors to deal with hazardous material situations.

Council will cover balance of mercury spill clean-up costs

Recent immigrant was billed $850 by Langley Township fire department after calling 911 about a broken thermometer and minor mercury spill.

Langley Township council has decided to cover the outstanding balance a home owner owes from an $850 clean-up. The fire department sent her the bill after a few drops of mercury spilled onto her kitchen floor last year.

At Monday’s meeting, council directed staff to cover what is left of the bill. The homeowner was paying the fire department in monthly installments but stopped paying recently, said fire chief Stephen Gamble. There was about $500 still owing.

The discussion to pay the home owner’s bill was made in a Nov. 4 special closed council meeting.

On Nov. 5, Councillor Kim Richter took to social media calling the decision to bill the home owner “over the top.”

“What happened here is just simply wrong — from start to finish,” said Richter.

Recently, Gamble spoke with The Times and defended his department’s decision to send the $850 clean-up bill.

On April 4, 2012, a mother of two, who is fairly new to the country, called 911 after she accidentally broke a thermometer. A few drops of mercury spilled out onto her kitchen floor. The woman had come to Canada from the Ukraine.

Gamble said the fire department was dispatched to a “hazmat” call at a residential home in Willoughby.

Gamble said his firefighters followed protocol and did the right thing by calling in a private company they use to do hazmat clean ups. The private company it called is based in Richmond.

It billed the homeowner for travel time and other expenses, and the original bill was in the thousands of dollars. After negotiations between the fire department and the woman, it was dropped to $850.

Gamble said the fire department doesn’t have the equipment or the training to handle hazardous material situations, even something as simple as a drop of mercury.

“If I ordered crews to clean it up that would be against WorkSafe BC regulations,” Gamble said.

The federal ministry of environment said only with “big spills” that a private company should be called in. There are simple instructions on Environment Canada’s website, directing people what they can do to clean up, when a few drops of mercury are spilled.

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