Plastimet blaze broke out 20 years ago
400 tonnes of polyvinyl chloride plastics burned
Sunday will mark the 20th anniversary of the Plastimet fire, remembered as one of worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.
Plastics recycler Plastimet Inc., on Wellington Street North, had more than 400 tonnes of polyvinyl chloride plastics and other plastics stored on site when it erupted in flames on July 9, 1997.
The fire, started by an eightyear-old, burned for four days spewing clouds of smoke with dioxin and other hazardous chemicals into the air. Nearby residents were moved to safety. People in the area were told not to eat vegetables from their soot-covered gardens and many expressed fears about the long-term health consequences for firefighters and others exposed to the toxic chemicals.
The fire heightened awareness about issues with plastic storage and led to criticism of government officials for allowing so many plastics to be stored in one location.
Firefighters have argued their health was placed at risk by battling the fire. They believe the fire contributed to cancer cases since. At least one firefighter’s death was linked to exposure.
Capt. Bob Shaw was one of 264 firefighters who tackled the blaze. He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 2003, but his claim was denied by the Workplace Safety Insurance Board. Shaw died in 2004 at the age of 55.
In May 2007, provincial legislation was passed to make it easier for firefighter occupational health claims to be recognized, including Shaw’s.
Plastimet Inc. on Wellington Street North broke out into flames on July 9, 1997. The fire burned for four days, spewing chemical-laced smoke in the air.
Above, Jackie Washington Park is now located at the site of Plastimet. To the left, crowds watch blaze from afar.