As of Aug. 2, ICBC has received 388 claims related to the May 23 sulphuric acid spill in Trail. (Sheri Regnier photo)

Hundreds turn to ICBC after Kootenay acid spill damages cars

Undercarriages, frames and suspensions are being examined for signs of sulfuric acid contamination

The number of ICBC claims has skyrocketed from 19 to 388, one month after a Trail Times reader tipped the newspaper about the fallout from the May 23 acid spill in town.

The reader had just received an insurance cheque – this was in early July – because her car was a “total loss” after she drove through a section of highway in Trail that was slick with sulphuric acid.

The caustic substance eats away at metal, especially aluminum. If a car is splashed with the acid, vehicle breakdown will follow, and that usually begins in the brake calipers.

She wanted to warn others about this public safety risk and urge them to get in touch with their insurance carrier to have their vehicles checked.

Interestingly, only hours after the Times published the story, a newspaper employee took the advice.

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She had driven right through the acid on May 23 thinking it was water, though she recalls “it smelled funny.”

After finding out about the spill the next morning, her husband made a few calls and was told to take the mid-size Subaru through a car wash. He did one better and pressure-washed the vehicle that afternoon.

And that was that.

Until she read the July 6 story about cars being written-off because ICBC had deemed them unsafe.

“We called and told ICBC I drove through the acid, and they started the claim,” she explained. “They came to our home and towed it. That was it, it’s gone.”

Like the reader, she loved her car and gave it up only because there was no other choice.

She says her settlement was fair, but the hunt is on for a second-hand car that will replace the 2006 Outback.

The May 23 spill was the second accidental sulphuric acid “release” from Westcan Bulk Transport this year.

The first time was the morning of April 10. In that incident, leaks began from Teck Trail and extended the 16-kilometre (km) run from the plant through town, and out to the Waneta re-load station. The May 23 spill stretched about five-km along Highway 3B from the smelter to Shavers Bench.

Of the 388 claims resulting from the latter incident, not all have been write-offs at this point.

“ICBC is currently reviewing all claims presented by customers to assess the extent of the damage caused by the spill,” ICBC stated via email Wednesday.

“We are still processing claims. Many, and possibly all vehicles that were exposed to the spill will have to be totally replaced,” the spokesperson said.

“However, ICBC will review each claim individually and make claims decisions based on the extent of the damage caused to each vehicle by the spill.”

Once drivers report their claim, ICBC estimating staff completes a full inspection of the vehicle to determine whether there is evidence that the vehicle drove through acid.

The undercarriages, frames and suspensions are examined for signs of sulfuric acid contamination.

The owner of the sulphuric acid, IRM (International Raw Materials), told the Times that a total of 80 litres was expelled – though there was no confirmation on the volume of each spill.

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