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Ambleside fat pollution likely came from ship, VCH says

Crews hauled out 40 litres of lard

UPDATE: Aug. 20.

The mystery of the blobs of fat washing ashore in Ambleside is at least partially solved.

On Aug 13, residents reported the foul-smelling gelatinous grease pebbles on the high-tide mark between the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Welcome Figure and Ambleside Pier.

District staff cleaned up about 40 litres of the "gross" substance, some of which was sent for testing by Vancouver Coastal Health. The province’s environmental regulators were also looking in on the matter.

On Friday, they made public some results based on a cursory analysis by a chemist.

“His conclusion is that the blob appears to consist of saturated fat, possibly animal in origin. Beef tallow comes to mind,” said Donna Powers, district spokeswoman.

Although sewer lines tend to get buildup of “fatbergs” thanks to grease being put down the drain, it’s not possible for those fats to make it past the Lions Gate Wastewater Treatment Plant, Powers said.

“The assumed source is a ship's discharge,” she said.

Powers said it’s unlikely they would be able to track down which ship was responsible.

North Vancouver resident Tiffany Paul noticed noxious grease when she and her family were visiting the beach but only after they found themselves surrounded by it.

“It seemed like it was like some kind of food oil that had gone rancid. The smell of it was awful,” she said. “I could not get it off my hands and we had to have the windows open in the car on the way home because it was so bad. It was on our feet and our hands.”

At the time, Paul said she speculated that it had come from a ship in the harbour. The lack of oversight and consequences is troubling, she added.

“It seems like the regulations around ships and what they're able to dump and the compliance and enforcement is definitely lacking,” she said. “It's kind of disturbing. You go to the beach to just enjoy nature. I was like in a Third World country or something where there's pollution everywhere.”


ORIGINAL: Aug. 17

Multiple agencies are investigating after a particularly disgusting mystery washed ashore in West Vancouver.

On Friday evening, residents reported to the District of West Vancouver what appeared to be globs of stinky fat washing up on Ambleside Beach.

“It is gross, to be sure,” said Donna Powers, West Vancouver spokeswoman. “It is kind of mysterious.”

The blobs of blubber were mostly at the high-tide level between the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Welcome Figure and Ambleside Pier, according to the district.

The district sent staff to investigate and collect the distasteful debris with shovels, resulting in almost 40 litres of lard being picked up and hauled away – enough to fill 10 one-gallon ice cream tubs, Powers said.

The Canadian Coast Guard as well as Ministry of Environment and Vancouver Coastal Health staff came the next day to inspect the scene.

Some of the congealed grease was collected and sent to a lab for testing. The results won’t be known until later in the week, but the health authority opted not to close the beach for swimming.

“We were advised by Vancouver Coastal Health that it presented no health risk,” Powers said.

There has been no sign of fresh fat deposits turning up since then, Powers said.

It will be up to the province to determine whether the bio-byproducts are hazardous materials spill and investigate who may be responsible, Powers said, though they have ruled out the nearby Boat Shed café as the source. If it was dumped from a vessel in the harbour, it will be difficult to track down, Powers noted.

In the past, Metro Vancouver has warned of “fatbergs” in the sewer system thanks to residents or businesses dumping melted fat down the drains. They tend to trap other solids, which can build up and threaten to clog the system.

 “We clean them out in West Van all the time,” Powers said.