Responding to major releases from industry

From a recent article in The Observer

Seemingly, with every Chemical Valley mishap there comes a familiar pattern of action. Municipal officials call for a followup meeting with local industry to find out where the breakdown in the communication plan occurred, after public complaints pour in.

The latest occurred following a Feb. 24 incident at Imperial Oil when a power outage resulted in a release of hydrocarbons to the air and a leak of diesel fuel to the ground. One worker received first aid treatment and several others were evaluated as a precaution.

City police were inundated with phone calls from schools and day-care centres asking if staff and children should take shelter. And neighbouring companies sent their employees to voluntary shelters, despite assurances from Imperial there were no off -site impacts.

A day later, a minor propane leak at the BP Canada plant in Sarnia escalated into a vapour release, prompting the closure of Plank Road. Warning codes were issued and the sight of police cars and fire trucks at the plant alarmed a number of residents. Criticism followed that the company provided very little information about the incident.

Clearly, a communication problem exists and the current system used by local industry in co-operation with municipal officials is flawed.

To underscore how badly the relationship has deteriorated, a planned incident review meeting between local industry and Sarnia’s emergency control group could not even be organized this week. One planned for Thursday had to be cancelled and rescheduled for March 8 because of scheduling issues. That pretty well demonstrates how high up the list of priorities this meeting had. What could be more important than a meeting to discuss communication and public safety?

The construction association, which represents many local workers, is understandably upset by the damage done by civic officials who criticize local industry on issues of public safety and accountability. The local association’s letter to the editor in today’s edition stands behind local industry and its safety records and overall commitment of both worker safety and the community’s safety.

Even the federal NDP candidate is weighing in on the issue and asking for intervention from Ottawa to fix the public warning system.

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