Article published Mar 15, 2008
Sarnia issues warning after benzene vapor leak at plant
Officials: 'Code 6' was precaution, lifted Friday night
By JACK POIRIER
Special to the Times Herald
Residents of southeast Sarnia were ordered to close their windows
and stay indoors Friday following a benzene vapor leak at Imperial Oil.
officials said the release occurred shortly before 4 p.m. after a
storage tank collapsed in an area of the plant near the St. Clair River.
police issued a shelter-in-place order an hour later for residents
south of Wellington Street and west of Mitton Street, advising them to
stay indoors and to close all windows and air intakes.
Benzene is a component of gasoline and a known carcinogen.
emergency CVECO Code 8 was issued, which notifies of a potential
problem in Chemical Valley. A Code 6 followed, which calls for full
traffic control in response to a toxic vapor release. Vidal Street was
closed in both directions.
Ferguson said the Code 6 was a precaution. It was lifted at 8:47 p.m.
cause of the tank collapse still is being investigated. Ferguson said
company firefighters quickly contained the vapors by dousing the tank
with foam, and remained on standby. No one was injured during the
incident, she said.
Imperial Oil spokeswoman Julie Ferguson was not sure about the age of the tank and when maintenance most recently was done.
"We have a very good tank (and equipment inspection) program," she said.
emergency co-ordinator Cal Gardner said Sarnia's Emergency Management
Primary Control Group met at police headquarters in response to the
Gardner said Imperial Oil officials provided
regular updates on reported benzene levels, which were detected as high
as 0.4 parts per million. The Ontario Ministry of Labour recently set
the occupational exposure limit at 1 part per million, based on an
eight-hour work day.
"The readings are low," Gardner said.
At the time of the shelter-in-place order, southeast winds were reported at 11 kilometers per hour.
Friedland, St. Clair County Homeland Security Emergency Management
Director, said his office was told of the leak and it notified the
Marysville Fire Department, since the wind was blowing in that
direction, and Port Huron city officials.
were given the option of using emergency management's equipment to
monitor the air, but chose not to. He said if the leak posed a
significant threat, residents would have been notified immediately by
radio and TV broadcasts.
Friedland said there are hazardous gases
throughout the county, whether they come from Sarnia or are being
shipped through the county.
"We have gases all over this county,"
he said. "That's one of the reasons we do have a hazardous material
response team - the volume of chemicals."
Sarnia residents were
alerted by radio and an emergency TV broadcast. A Port Huron police
dispatcher knew nothing about the release about 5:30 p.m. when notified
by the Sarnia Observer newspaper.
"We haven't heard anything. Nobody has been called, and I've been here all day," dispatcher Shannon Rees said.