On­tario probes plant for pos­si­ble leak

Min­istry of en­vi­ron­ment in­ves­ti­gates why Nova failed to promptly re­port in­ci­dent


The On­tario En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry is in­ves­ti­gat­ing after a Sar­nia-area plant failed to re­port a pos­si­ble chem­i­cal leak as legally re­quired, a spokesper­son said Thurs­day.

Nova Chem­i­cals in Corunna, south of Sar­nia, evac­u­ated staff to a “safe lo­ca­tion” Wed­nes­day after an in­ter­nal alarm went off for hy­dro­gen sul­phide, the com­pany said. Hy­dro­gen sul­phide, which has a rot­ten egg odour, can par­a­lyze the hu­man sense of smell and cause death at high enough con­cen­tra­tions.

The min­istry spokesper­son said staff are in­ves­ti­gat­ing why Nova didn’t im­me­di­ately re­port the in­ci­dent, as re­quired by law.

“We are com­mu­ni­cat­ing to Nova that it is our ex­pec­ta­tion that in in­ci­dents like this they do no­tify us,” said the spokesper­son.

The min­istry also said its staff con­tacted Nova shortly after the alarm sounded, and the com­pany let it know about the sit­u­a­tion. The com­pany later no­ti­fied the min­istry that the in­ci­dent was re­solved by 5:45 p.m.

Last month, a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Star, Global News, Na­tional Ob- server, the Mich­ener Awards Foun­da­tion and jour­nal­ism schools at Ry­er­son and Con­cor­dia uni­ver­si­ties re­vealed a trou­bling pat­tern of secrecy and po­ten­tially toxic leaks in the Sar­nia area.

There are 57 pol­luters within 25 kilo­me­tres of the city regis­tered with the Cana­dian and U.S. gov­ern­ments.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion also raised ques­tions about whether com­pa­nies and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment are prop­erly warn­ing res­i­dents of Sar­nia and the nearby First Na­tions com­mu­nity of Aamji­w­naang when po­ten­tially toxic sub­stances are leaked.

In a state­ment re­leased to me­dia, Nova said two in­ci­dents hap­pened Wed­nes­day at its Corunna site, which em­ploys about 500 peo­ple.

The first hap­pened at 1 a.m., when ethy­lene and meth­ane, both flammable and ex­plo­sive gases, spilled from an open valve, the Nova state­ment said.

The com­pany called an all-clear 45 min­utes later.

The pos­si­ble hy­dro­gen sul­phide leak hap­pened at about 4:50 p.m. Nova called the all-clear about an hour later.

When plant staff ar­rived Wed­nes­day morn­ing, they re­ceived writ­ten in­struc­tions to wear res­pi­ra­tor masks in cer­tain ar­eas. Nova didn’t an­swer ques­tions about how high ex- po­sure lev­els must reach be­fore staff are asked to wear pro­tec­tion, but said the mask memo was un­re­lated to ei­ther in­ci­dent.

Nova said the com­pany’s air mon­i­tor­ing didn’t show any im­pacts to the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity.

“We re­it­er­ate that these two events were un­re­lated,” said the com­pany state­ment. “Both are still un­der thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Nova Chem­i­cals has been in close con­tact with the On­tario Min­istry of the En­vi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change.”

Nova said it con­tacted the lo­cal fire de­part­ment and Aamji­w­naang, which no­ti­fied res­i­dents of the af­ter­noon leak at about 5 p.m.

The com­pany said it also posted in­for­ma­tion on a phone line res­i­dents can call for in­for­ma­tion. The city of Sar­nia didn’t send out an alert.

Mean­while, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment un­veiled a pol­icy pro­posal Thurs­day in­tended to toughen air pollution stan­dards in Sar­nia and Hamil­ton — two heav­ily in­dus­tri­al­ized ar­eas.

If ap­proved, it would con­sider the com­bined ef­fect of lo­cal pollution rather than fo­cus­ing on in­di­vid­ual plants’ emis­sions.

Sar­nia-area res­i­dents have been ask­ing for such a mea­sure for at least eight years.

The pol­icy would ap­ply only to fa­cil­i­ties that are new or ex­pand­ing.


Sar­nia’s Chem­i­cal Val­ley’s plants, as seen from Aamji­w­naang First Na­tion.

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