Ambassador Bridge HazMat controversy sparks up

by Ron Stang

WINDSOR, Ont. – A controversy over the shipping of a reported hazardous material over the Ambassador Bridge may be generating more fury than substance.

The local Member of Parliament, Brian Masse, is calling the management of the Ambassador Bridge to account following reports in The Windsor Star this spring that the bridge was allowing a transport company to truck Alum or aluminum sulphate, described as a hazardous material, over the span despite the fact the bridge is not designated as a border crossing over which HazMat materials are supposed to be trucked.

Masse told Truck News he was “really appalled” when he heard the bridge was routinely exempting carrier Harold Marcus Ltd. of Bothwell, Ont. to truck the liquid solution from GAC MidAmerica Inc. of Toledo, Ohio to Windsor’s two pollution control plants, owned by the City of Windsor. He said it “only reconfirmed a practice which we know has happened in the past” such as other corrosives a few years ago that the media had reported bridge management was permitting to be taken across the privately-owned structure. “Actually condoning it, supporting it, is really reprehensible,” he said.

The MP has brought the matter to the federal Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day and Masse hopes new legislation, Bill C-3, currently before Parliament and which would bring all border crossings including privately owned ones under tighter federal control, will prevent such activity from taking place in the future.

“It (the bill) does give some ability to the minister in the direction of safety issues to be addressed,” Masse said, adding it “can have influence with regard to regulations and waste material crossings.”

Meanwhile, Masse charged, the ongoing operation of the bridge has become “so dysfunctional” that the government should undertake a “proper investigation” into how it is run. He said the bridge is constantly in poor condition.

“Their gravel and their debris is scattered all over public property on the sidewalks,” under the bridge and has a “second rate chain link fence around basically a gravel pit…It’s dirty, it’s messy and this is how they present their business to the community.”

So it wasn’t a surprise to him that if the bridge’s physical surroundings were poor “why wouldn’t their operational mechanisms be the same?”

When contacted by Truck News, Skip McMahon, the bridge’s director of special projects, had a simple “no comment” about the HazMat issue and criticism of its upkeep, noting the bridge had faced these charges before and it would be pointless to fuel the fire by responding to them.

Despite the publicity, Harold Marcus is still using the Ambassador Bridge. Mark Slotwinski, manufacturer’s representative for the The Kissner Group of Cambridge, Ont., which has the Alum contract, said the company is still using the bridge. He said even before the controversy his company, which contracts with the Bothwell carrier, checked with Transport Canada to determine if Alum was hazardous but was told that it isn’t.

“First thing we did we reviewed with Transport Canada and they informed us it’s not against any federal or provincial regulations,” he said. Kissner, a chemical distribution company, specializes in trucking products like salts and de-icing solutions as well as food chemicals. Alum is being trucked through common carrier lease.

According to GAC MidAmerica’s Web site Alum is used in the clarification and treatment of process and potable water and in the removal of phosphorus and suspended solids from industrial and municipal effluent. Kit Woods, executive director of Windsor’s environmental services department, said the substance is “used as part of the treatment process” to settle solids out of liquids. It’s a mild acid, he said.

“It’s actually slightly less acidic than lemon juice,” said Woods.

He added that he was “not sure” if it is considered hazardous but “it’s listed with the US Food and Drug Administration as a food substance.”

Woods said it’s true shipments get placarded, as do typical HazMat cargoes, but that’s because “it’s a mild acid. So it may be an issue of a placarded chemical and what the rules are with regard to placarded chemicals.”

He said his department has advised the trucking company of the concern.

“We talked to the shipper and we reminded him that we expected him to comply with all appropriate legislation and he said he understood that and as far as we’re concerned that’s the end of it.”

The designated routes for shipping hazardous materials are the Detroit /Windsor Truck Ferry, which operates a few kilometres down river from the bridge, and the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron, Mich.

The Kissner Group’s Slotwinski said any fears of one of the truck’s contents spilling and ending up in the Detroit River should be eliminated. He said Alum has been dumped more than safely in lakes to control algae “so the fish could survive in the water.”

Linda Licari, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, said her ministry leaves it up to bridge owners and operators to “to decide what dangerous goods can be transported over its bridge” so long as it doesn’t contravene Canadian and US legislation. She also said the proposed Bill C-3 would indeed give the government power “to make regulations with respect to the operation, safety and security” of the bridge. And the government could adopt regulations “in conjunction with the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act regulations to restrict the transportation of certain dangerous goods over specific international bridges.”

But if Transport Canada doesn’t regulate Alum what about authorities on the US side of the river?

Leuitenant David Ford, who oversees HazMat regulations for the Michigan State Police, said Alum is legal to bring across.

“It’s not even regulated as a hazardous material,” he said, adding “it’s like he’s hauling water.”

Ford said his staff were surprised when they saw the Windsor Star article. The Star’s front page headline was Bridge Okays Risky Cargo. “We were kind of puzzled by it because we were like, ‘Wait a minute, it’s not even regulated here.'”

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