Seaspan Ship Yard in the foreground and PKM

Mapping Burrard Inlet’s legal polluters

These 21 facilities hold provincial authorizations to release polluted effluent, challenging efforts to bring the Lower Mainland waterway back to life

Centuries of colonization, urbanization and industrial activity have severely polluted Burrard Inlet, the waterway that offers protected harbour off the shores of Vancouver and other Lower Mainland municipalities.

These waters nourished Tsleil-Waututh Nation (səlilwətaɬ) for millennia, before they became a hub for global trade, home to Canada’s busiest port. But the more recent legacy of pollution has contaminated food sources and a way of life. Shellfish harvesting has been closed for half a century, and people are regularly barred from swimming at local beaches.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation is leading efforts to clean up the inlet and bring it back to life. But addressing historic pollution is only part of the challenge. As part of a broader investigation, The Narwhal compiled public documents to show just how much pollution the Government of British Columbia still allows companies to release into Burrard Inlet.

Map: Ainslie Cruickshank / The Narwhal

This Burrard Inlet map compiles information from provincial authorizations for 21 facilities to release contaminants into the waterway. Click on a marker to explore the details of the permits, including the amounts of specific pollutants that wastewater may still contain.

These authorized polluters include petroleum processing and shipping facilities, chemical manufacturers, concrete producers, an animal and fish rendering plant, a sugar refinery, a wastewater treatment plant, a shipyard and several bulk loading terminals where a range of products from coal to copper concentrate are shipped overseas. While some wastewater undergoes a degree of treatment, companies are not required to remove all contaminants before releasing it into the inlet.

Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.
Investigating problems. Exploring solutions
The Narwhal’s reporters are telling environment stories you won’t read about anywhere else. Stay in the loop by signing up for a weekly dose of independent journalism.

In some cases, the wastewater permits are in direct conflict with new water quality objectives, jointly approved by Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the province. Those objectives state, for example, that no oil or grease should be present in the inlet. But authorizations for four companies permit a combined release of 629 kilograms of oil and grease in a single day.

According to a statement, the province is working to bring permits in line with current policies and is prioritizing facilities with high environmental risks and companies that have applied for permit amendments.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
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When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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