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Fines for not reporting environmental spills are soaring. Vale Canada Limited has pled guilty to one violation under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act for failing to notify the Ministry of the Environment of an oleum acid escape during tanker loading.

The company operates a mining facility in Sudbury. In July 2010, company employees were loading a tanker car with oleum acid when some of the liquid spilled out of the car. Company employees failed to forthwith notify the Ministry of the Environment Spills Action Centre of the spill.

This spill did not cause an adverse effect. According to Wikipedia, oleum is an important intermediate in the manufacture of sulfuric acid. It is a useful form for transporting sulfuric acid compounds, typically in rail tankcars, between oil refineries (which produce various sulfur compounds as a byproduct of refining) and industrial consumers. In Richmond, California in 1993 a significant aerial release of oleum caused a release of sulfur trioxide[2] that absorbed moisture from the atmosphere, creating a mist of micrometre-sized sulfuric acid particles that formed an inhalation health hazard.[3] This mist produced adverse health effects on residents and workers over a wide area.[4]

The company agreed to a fine of $150,000 plus a 25% victim fine surcharge, to be paid within 60 days. This is one of Canada’s highest ever fines for non-reporting.

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