During the late 1980s, most of Keystone’s Canadian projects were being worked on in Pittsburgh along with other projects from Koppers. One of the most notable was the risk assessment and remediation planning to address the former industrial areas that had become the grounds for EXPO 86. Completing this work, a decision was made to open a Canadian office, and Keystone Environmental Resources Ltd., the Canadian company, was born, opening its office on February 1, 1988. At that time Keystone Environmental had one Canadian employee (Bill Donald) and occupied a single office in the Koppers International Canada Limited offices on Shellbridge Way, Richmond. Coincident with the opening of the office, a British construction firm (Beazer) targeted the Koppers Company in a hostile takeover, and successfully completed the purchase of all shares by September of 1988. Beazer planned to sell most of the Koppers Company divisions: wood treating, coal tar refining, phenol plants, the Resorcinol plant, and the overall Chemical and Allied Products division, to raise funds for the acquisition. Unbeknownst to Beazer, the environmental liability of Koppers was estimated to be over $1 billion and the assets could only be sold with Beazer rationing the environmental liabilities. The result was the bankruptcy of Beazer and the establishment of a $1 billion insurance fund to manage the environmental liability of the former Koppers Company.
Keystone Environmental was sold later that same year to Chester Engineers, a large engineering consulting firm, itself owned by a heating, venting and air conditioning manufacturing company. Chester was sold time and again over the following five years, finally being broken up.
Initially, Keystone Environmental pursued business opportunities not only in the Metro Vancouver area, but throughout BC, and into Alberta and Ontario and in the western United States. In 1988 and until the fall of 1989, most of our work was conducted by staff from the parent company office in Pittsburgh. Two of our first projects stand out as milestones in the development of the environmental practice in British Columbia.
In late 1989 we were retained to investigate the site of Science World, the former EXPO 86 Ontario Pavilion, and to complete a human health risk assessment to determine if it was “safe” for Science World to open its doors to the public. This site, along with other properties fronting Quebec Street, was contaminated with coal tar. In early 1970, before Quebec Street was constructed between Keefer and 1st Avenue, a channel existed. The former coal gasification plant at Keefer and Quebec Streets disposed of its tar in the channel. When the time came to construct this section of Quebec Street, the City made the decision to backfill the channel with the intent of pushing the coal tar into False Creek. The plan was not successful and the coal tar was trapped beneath the fill, where it remains today. The human health risk assessment demonstrated that the site did not present an unacceptable risk to human health and Science World opened.
In 1989, we were engaged by Bosa Development to investigate the lands now occupied by Citygate – the residential high-rise development located at the east end of False Creek. At the time, this site was occupied by a concrete batch plant. Our early work at this site included yet another risk assessment, the first used in connection with the redevelopment of a former industrial site to a residential use in Greater Vancouver. We continued with Bosa Development through the first four of the total five phases of this development over more than a decade.
In these early days, numerical standards for clean-up of contaminated sites and groundwater were in their infancy. In British Columbia, we adopted the “Quebec” criteria, themselves adopted from the Netherlands criteria. These evolved into the Criteria for Managing Contaminated Sites in British Columbia, “CMCS.” With the development of the first phase of Citygate, the need to treat contaminated groundwater generated was tackled. Sourcing a used filter press out of the US, the water was treated in batches. The were no discharge standards at the time for PAHs and, by researching the stormwater runoff water quality, Keystone Environmental proposed a total PAH discharge water concentration of 10 µg/L, a concentration later adopted as the Pacific Place discharge standard. Along with designing and implementing a practical solution to address the contaminated groundwater, our leadership resulted in the early adoption of a practical and achievable treatment standard. Keystone Environmental’s reputation as a provider of practical solutions was on its way.
In October 1989, Keystone Environmental hired its second Canadian employee, Ken Evans. Ken joined the firm coming from the Kamloops office of the Ministry of Environment where he was an Industrial Section Head. A month later we hired our first geotechnical engineer and our growth started. By 1990 we had four senior personnel in our Richmond office, including Don Bryant who transferred from the parent Pittsburgh office.
In 1989 we were engaged by J.H. Baxter and Company to investigate and develop a remediation plan for its Eugene, Oregon, wood treatment plant – the largest such plant in the western US. We would continue to staff and manage this project from our Vancouver office, completing the detailed investigation of the plant site, offsite contamination that had migrated to residential properties, and a detailed human health and ecological risk assessment. When the offsite contamination was identified, the need to control the offsite migration became a priority. Groundwater modelling, including contaminant fate and transport, was used to design a groundwater extraction well network and a groundwater treatment plant. Later, we designed a surface water treatment plant to collect and treat all storm water runoff from the site. Surface water was contaminated with metals (arsenic, zinc, copper), pentachlorophenol and PAHs.
One of Keystone’s most ambitious early projects (1990) was the excavation of barrels of surplus “Agent Orange” herbicide that had been buried by the Ministry of Transportation decades before. Keystone mobilized its own engineers and technicians to the Northern BC site, oversaw excavation and containment of the contamination, and created a long-term storage facility for the waste.
Between 1991 and 1993 we continued to grow both in staff and in the breadth of work we undertook. In 1991 we completed a wastewater treatment plant in Powell River to treat PCP-contaminated water and in Alberta we developed and implemented an approach for the remote cleaning of a C5 tanks at the Novacor polyethylene plant. This large bulk storage tank had developed a leak and Novacor was seeking an approach that would enable its cleaning without the need for personnel to enter the tank. In this highly explosive environment, we nonetheless developed an approach that employed a lance, inserted through a fitting in an access hatch and sprayed diesel fuel into the tank to dislodge and dissolve sediment residue that had accumulated. The fuel gas was pumped from the tank and sent for refining and product recovery.
In 1992 Keystone Environmental designed and installed a biological treatment plant to treat pumped groundwater containing PAH and PCP to surface water discharge requirements – almost non-detect. That same year we began our long-term relationship with West Fraser Mills. At their Eurocan Pulp and Paper mill leachate from their chemical waste landfill was leaching into a ditch that connected to a freshwater course of interest to Fisheries Canada. Investigations were completed to determine where the leachate was moving with the groundwater. With this information Keystone Environmental designed and constructed a slurry wall to intercept the leachate and direct it to a catchment pond. The water was then pumped to the mill wastewater treatment system.
At the Titan Steel nail plant in Richmond, we managed the excavation of many years of metal laden sludge accumulation in their wastewater treatment lagoons. The work was challenged by the need for heavy equipment to work in drained lagoons where the sludge was physically unstable.