12/17/2013 01:42 EST | Updated 02/16/2014 05:59 EST

Quebec's environment minister announces inspection program of 1,300 PCB sites

MONTREAL - Quebec's environment minister has announced a new inspection program will be carried out on known PCB sites in the province.

Yves-Francois Blanchet says priority will be given to 60 licensed PCB sites, which will be checked between now and April 2014.

The inspections will be carried out on 1,300 sites around the province over the next five years.

"All real and potential sites on Quebec's territory will be visited to be checked to ensure that they conform to existing rules when it comes to PCBs," Blanchet said.

"We want to make sure no sites have slipped through and that our repertoire is up-to-date."

Blanchet made the announcement at a news conference Tuesday in suburban Pointe-Claire, a town where a company had been illegally storing PCBs.

Toxic materials had been present there for years, but were only detected in March after a spill of about 1,000 litres on the property.

Reliance Power Equipment Ltd., the company that had been illegally storing the polychlorinated biphenyls, has ignored repeated warnings to clean up the mess.

In September, the Quebec government stepped in and took over the cleanup of the site, which could cost as much as $3.5 million.

Blanchet also told a news conference that decontamination of the site will resume in the spring.

Pointe-Claire Mayor Morris Trudeau said his town is working with other elected officials and Montreal fire services to ensure that prevention experts inspect all industrial buildings on the island of Montreal on a yearly basis.

The environment minister said the inspections across Quebec will be carried out using existing resources and without any additional inspectors.

He pointed to a chart which showed a massive reduction of PCBs in Quebec since 2000. The quantity of legally stored PCBs went from 1,200 metric tonnes to less than 200 metric tonnes in 2012.

Blanchet is also calling on residents who are worried that PCBs might be stored near their homes to contact his department.

The incident has stirred memories in Quebec of the 1988 St-Basile-le-Grand crisis, where thousands of people were evacuated from their homes following an explosion at a warehouse that housed PCBs.