Accidents and resilience

August 2, 2013

This past weekend the community I call home, the West Kootenay area of British Columbia, saw an unfortunate accident in the nearby Slocan valley.  A fuel tanker was traveling through our pristine and beautiful mountains on a remote road in the process of delivering jet fuel to helicopters supporting fire suppression teams battling wild fires in the area. Unfortunately the driver of this truck carrying 35,000 litres (9240 US gal) of jet fuel somehow took the wrong forest service road and ended up attempting navigating a road adjacent to Lemon Creek that was not engineered to carry such loads.  The photo shows the result of the road giving away under this load.  The entire volume of jet fuel drained into Lemon Creek which flows directly into the Slocan River.

I have no doubt that mother nature will show us how resilient she is in this specific instance (jet fuel is more forgiving than crude oil).  And if we effectively support mother nature in recovering the area back to its near pristine state the beauty of the valley with all its nature activities and aesthetic pleasures will return.  However I think the qualification “near” pristine cannot be stated enough.  Unfortunately this area will be scarred for a period of time and the fact that such an intense shock of a toxic substance had to be carried by such pristine waterways and then scrubbed clean over time with the cycles of the seasons cannot be reversed.

The news here in BC is a buzz with the recovery efforts and into the investigation of this unfortunate accident.  One recent article from stated:

“…the spill highlights how, even with good safety protocols in place, one error can lead to devastating consequences.”

Now we need to recognize that human errors do occur and thinking that we can engineer systems that are human-error free simply creates a false sense of security that can introduce greater risks.  The key is to balance protocols with improvements to human practices and activities that better alert us of the risks with sufficient lead time to avoid disasters of this nature.

As much as I’m still deeply disturbed over what occurred in the Slocan valley this past weekend I’m thankful that people’s awareness of handling such large volumes of hazardous materials in such environments will be forever shifted.  The story will persist for some time which will serve to inform the need for greater care in the transportation of hazardous substances.

Sometimes you have no choice but to rely on resilience…


Photo source:

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