City and provincial officials have assured there is little health risk to Port Weller residents, two months after they were exposed to a chemical fire in mid-January that saw nearby neighborhoods evacuated .
More than 100 attendees joined authorities for a town hall meeting at the Grantham Lions Club on Wednesday to hear an official update on the fire at a waste disposal site run by Ssonix Products on Keefer Road, St. Catharines, in Ontario.
Ministry of the Environment (MOE) officers have reassured neighbors that the impact on air quality has been minimal since the January 12 event, but some volatile organic compounds and metals have been discovered in the adjacent ditches as well as the tributaries of the wells and will have to be repaired.
“Our preliminary results show water impacts in the ditches adjacent to the creek, (they will) likely require clean-up activities at some point,” said Niagara Region MOE Supervisor Taylor Buck.
With nearly 11.5 million liters of firefighting water administered by firefighters to contain the blaze, Buck said soil and sediment sampling was undertaken in “downwind locations” – areas that would have been most affected.
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Buck said all available sample results are currently being reviewed by ministry experts and testing will likely be completed the week of March 20.
“The cleanup is underway and measures are in place to prevent further offsite migration,” Buck revealed.
“Some of our other nearby team members continue to regularly inspect the site to monitor cleanup activities and assess the integrity of the site’s containment measures.”
St Catharines Fire Chief Dave Upper told attendees the site was also managed by EFI Global – consultants working with Ssonix on the containment and disposal of remaining chemicals and water from the tanks of fracturing.
EFI also works with the MOE in the surrounding neighborhood.
“He will provide support to investigative agencies as needed, and then we want to try to keep you informed as best we can and make sure we’re keeping everything safe,” Upper said.
The ministry is still awaiting responses to the 700 letters sent to residents requesting impact reports. Department investigators say around 100 have been sacked so far.
Airborne concentration of chemicals poses ‘no significant health risk’
A spokesperson for Niagara Public Health said the concentration of chemicals that may have been airborne on the day of the fire, and after, did not reach levels that could pose a “significant risk to health”.
Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr Azim Kasmani told onlookers they examined three air samples taken by the MOE, first from two nearby schools during the fire and a week later from locations under the wind.
“The initial concentration of chemicals in the air that day was below levels that would pose a significant health risk,” Kasmani said.
“As soon as those levels were below that level … the risk disappears, it reverses.”
Kasmani said follow-up testing has been “equally reassuring” showing chemical levels have returned to baseline levels with no continued risk.
He also assured residents that the water was largely unaffected by residue from the fire.
Ssonix was due to be inspected on a date the week after the fire
Buck told town hall attendees that Ssonix’s last ministry inspection was in 2020 and it was due for inspection at a date after the fire.
“Unfortunately this incident happened before we could be there,” Buck revealed.
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“It’s not to say that the inspection would have changed what happened that day, but it certainly could have shed light on issues that could have prevented it.”
He said the facility was in compliance after the 2020 visit and that the MOE is largely a “complaint-driven” entity that hasn’t received many about Ssonix.
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The ministry suspended Ssonix’s environmental compliance approval to receive and process waste from the fire.
The company must submit a plan assessing the extent of the impact of the fire in order to clean up the site to restore its approval.
The Department of the Environment says that once submitted, the department will take steps to ensure affected areas are restored to ‘pre-fire conditions’ before the business can move forward .
“Our office will continue to closely monitor the progress of the order and ongoing cleanup activities,” Buck explained.
Ryan Konkin, Ssonix employee, died in a fire
Ryan Konkin, 37, was the only victim of the January 12 industrial fire.
Konkin suffered severe burns to his body when he opened a factory door and was hit by the flames.
He died after being rushed to hospital with serious injuries.
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A GoFundMe campaign in memory of Konkin, organized by sister Nicole, surpassed the $10,000 goal by about $7,000 and targets Ryan’s ambition to operate a food truck in conjunction with his fiancée.
He is survived by fiancée Natalia Sepulveda Lastra and his 15-year-old son, Vincent, Konkin planned to go into business with the purchase of a specialty coffee truck, according to his sister.
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Upper told residents that despite the on-site investigation by the Office of the Fire Marshal that concluded Feb. 10, actual findings on the potential cause could take months.
“Everyone is back in their office sifting through all the data, all the information that has been collected over these four weeks,” Upper explained.
“So it’s going to be months before they finish all of this.”
Upper explained that part of the heist relates to other fire investigations in the province, including an unrelated case that will tie up Ssonix’s lead investigator who will have court dates due in the weeks to come. come.
“So there are a lot of moving parts there,” Upper said.
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