Hazardous Data Gap In B.C. Means It Costs $125,910 For Right To Know

“Three hundred thousand pages of records, stuffed into 50 cardboard boxes each year with no filing method. It’s a system so broken and antiquated you’d be forgiven if you assumed this was a thing of the distant past. But you’d be wrong.

In the year 2020, when online retailers can trace millions of packages simultaneously and ride-hailing services can tell you when your driver is around the corner, British Columbia continues to use physical papers to track the movement of hazardous waste across the province.

Did biomedical waste from hospitals get from Point A to Point B safely? What about dangerous contaminated sludges from pipeline operators? Ever since B.C. stopped producing a digital database of waste shipments in 2014, we have no easy way to know. Trust us, we tried: after requesting a complete paper record of a year’s worth of shipments, the government told us we would have to pay $125,910 for a copy of those 300,000 pages.

A lack of access to those documents would be concerning even if we assumed that the industry was upholding stringent standards. But we know that’s not the case. Toxic waste handlers were found to have broken the rules in 70 per cent of the roughly 530 inspections conducted by regulators since 2014. That’s without factoring in the tens of thousands of yearly shipments that aren’t being inspected.”

Arik Ligeti reports for the Narwhal July 27, 2020.