Canada

This is why we don’t sprinkle Tide detergent on rooftops, B.C. housing complex learns

Someone neglected to think about the rain

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Last week, Tom Ulanowski saw a man on a rooftop a few homes down from his. The worker had used a bucket lift to hoist himself and a stack of red cartons up there, and looked to be spreading something powdery on the roofs of the townhouse complex.

Over the next couple of days, some of the powder blew off the roofs and settled on the grounds of the Abbotsford, B.C. development, on residents’ shrubbery and on flowers. That powder was laundry detergent, being used either as an ersatz herbicide to prevent the growth of moss, or, less likely, to clean the roofs. Then it rained, as it does around Abbotsford, which gets precipitation an average 174 days a year, more frequently than any other city in Canada.

The next day, foam appeared in nearby Clayburn Creek. Ulanowski and another homeowner took their complaint to the condominium council, and Ulanowski — an environmental scientist — went for a hike with his wife and baby. This is what they saw:

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Foam was seen billowing out of a drainage culvert in the forested creek area.
Foam was seen billowing out of a drainage culvert in the forested creek area. Photo by Courtesy Tom Ulanowski

Officials with B.C’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said they, the City of Abbotsford and Environment Canada were eyeing the situation, and told the CBC that the substance causing all the foam was Tide powdered detergent.

The city’s bylaw department was also investigating. The contractor, at the behest of the province, had apparently hired a pump truck to clean up the storm sewers.

Foam travelled a good distance down the creek.
Foam travelled a good distance down the creek. Photo by Courtesy Tom Ulanowski

Esmarie Engh and her friend Cynthia Ritchie couldn’t believe the amount of foam.

“Pretty much the four kilometres (of the creek had foam) on it,” Engh, who hikes there with Ritchie on a daily basis, told CTV.

No, that’s not a light dusting of spring snow.
No, that’s not a light dusting of spring snow. Photo by Courtesy Tom Ulanowski

The ministry said there hadn’t appeared to be any negative impacts on fish habitat, but there may yet be, if not in proximity to the outflow then potentially in aquatic habitats in adjacent streams. That is dependent on the chemicals in the detergent, their concentration in the water and how long it stays in those waters. Plants in and along the creek bed had been exposed.

It remains to be seen whether there will be any repercussions for the use of the detergent. In addition to potentially destroying flora and fauna in and along the creek, it may also damage the homeowners’ roof shingles and landscaping.

The detergent powder landed on residents’ plants in the townhouse complex.
The detergent powder landed on residents’ plants in the townhouse complex. Photo by Courtesy Tom Ulanowski
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