Surrey recycling company, president, fined $40,000

SURREY  — A now defunct Surrey electronics recycling company and its president have been fined $40,000 for illegally shipping lead acid batteries and nickel cadmium batteries overseas.

Company president Sai Feng Guan was fined $11,000 and Newton-based Electronics Recycling Canada was fined $29,000 in Surrey provincial court for two 2011 shipments. Guan has since retired and the company has gone out of business.

Originally charged with 48 counts under Section 185 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, Guan and her company pleaded guilty to two counts apiece of transporting hazardous waste without notifying the ministry, and transporting hazardous waste without a permit.

The 44 other charges were stayed.

Federal Crown prosecutor Alexander Clarkson told Judge Paul Dohm the company had operated out of a warehouse in the 13000-block of 84th Avenue, under the sign "Help us protect our environment."

The court heard the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department sent back to Canada two containers laden with batteries that had been shipped from Delta’s superport, because they contained hazardous waste.

Clarkson noted lead’s harmful effect on people, plants and animals is well documented. "Cadmium compounds are toxic," he added, and can cause irreversible harm to people, leading to respiratory failure and even death.

Both Canada and China are among 182 countries that have signed an international treaty called the Basel Convention, designed to protect human health and the environment from hazardous wastes.

Clarkson said the company was told by Environment Canada that it can’t export such materials into China without permission, but it sent the batteries anyway. He said that while China prohibits the import of such materials without a proper permit, controls are very poor. While there are domestic battery recycling outfits here in B.C., such as the lead smelter in Trail, local companies have "financial reason" to send the materials overseas to be dealt with. "The bottom line, it’s cheaper to export," Clarkson noted, because of lower labour costs abroad. There, he noted, hazardous wastes are commonly disposed of by open burning, creating a "serious environment and health issue."

Defence lawyer Martin Peters said there was a "mistake of law" that led the company to ship the batteries despite the warning from Environment Canada. He said the containers were bound for Macau but was offloaded in Hong Kong. He said the defendants thought Macau was still subject to Portuguese law, not China, hence the reaction that they were going to ship anyway.

It wasn’t established during the court hearing if Portugal is party to the Basel Convention, but it is, and China took over Macau in 1999.

Clarkson said the offences were "reckless" in that they posed a risk of damage to the environment and human health.

Peters noted the defendants had no prior record and there was no actual pollution released into the "world environment" in this case because authorities stopped the shipments. He said Guan was not a "hands-on" manager and "there should have been better oversight and in this case there was not."

Dohm found the lawyers’ joint submission appropriate and "fair in all circumstances."

He ordered that the fines be paid within a year.

Dohm asked Guan if she had anything to say before sentencing. She declined.

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