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Thousands of plastic pellets flood into Delta, B.C. waterway amid heavy rain

An environmental group is raising concerns about plastic pollution, after heavy rains washed thousands of industrial pellets into a drainage channel in Delta on Saturday.

It’s the second time in as many years that the incident has cropped up at the Audley Canal on Annacis Island, but Sufrider Foundation President David Boudinot said the most recent incident appeared to be worse than in February 2020.

Plastic pellets seen in the Audley Canal.
Plastic pellets seen in the Audley Canal. Sufrider Foundation Canada
Plastic pellets seen in the Audley Canal.
Plastic pellets seen in the Audley Canal. Sufrider Foundation Canada

“It’s worse. There’s an area of about 300 metres, it looks like snow on the sides of the water,” he said.

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“But that’s not snow. It’s plastic.”

Read more: City of Delta cleaning up plastic waste on banks of waterway, says ‘responsible party’ will pay

The pellets, known as “nurdles,” are an industrial-grade form of plastic polymer used in the production of single-use items like plastic bags and water bottles.

When pellets spill during transport or production and aren’t cleaned up, they can be caught up in rain events and flow away.

“It’s incredibly difficult to clean up — as the pellets disperse in the water, they soak up toxins. Marine life are known to eat them. They collect on the beach,” Boudinot said.

“It doesn’t just go away. When you hear about an oil spill, sometimes they say, ‘well, it’s OK, a little bit of oil it’ll dissipate and evaporate.’ Well, that doesn’t happen. In this case, the plastic persists. We like to call it a solidified oil spill that is going to last for generations.”

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Boudinot said with the high amount of plastic manufacturing going on on Annacis Island, the city needs to install storm drain covers the pellets can’t get past.

Read more: Thousands of industrial plastic pellets found on banks of Delta, B.C., waterway

He said the city and province are well aware of the problem, and also need to step up their enforcement of existing environmental laws.

In a statement, the City of Delta said staff would investigate the incident.

“Following our investigation in respect of this incident, the City will take action as necessary to address any issues identified, including requiring the responsible party (if any) to clean up the canal and further action under our storm sewer bylaw as appropriate,” reads the statement.

The city said the canal is connected to the Fraser River through a pump station, which is designed to capture any pieces of plastic before they flow into the river.

In the wake of the 2020 incident, the city said it had cleaned up all of the plastic, implemented improvements in screening of drainage catch basins and “housekeeping” at a number of sites to try and prevent plastic pollution from getting into waterways.