Oil Company Charged After Refinery Explosion

A year after a massive explosion killed two refinery workers and\r\nsent towers of toxic smoke into city skies, Hub Oil, in Calgary,\r\nAlberta, was charged Tuesday with failing to maintain equipment.

A year after a massive explosion killed two refinery workers and sent towers of toxic smoke into city skies, Hub Oil, in Calgary, Alberta, was charged Tuesday with failing to maintain equipment.

"Every worker is entitled to a safe and healthy workplace," said Clint Dunford, Alberta employment minister, the eve of the first anniversary of the deadly explosion at the oil recycling plant.

"I am committed that we will take action when we believe an employer has not fulfilled this essential safety obligation."

The company has been charged under the Canadian Occupational Health and Safety Act and its owners face fines up to $150,000 and six months in jail.

An investigation into the accident continues.

Ryan Silver, 24, and Ryan Eckhard, 26, died during a series of explosions that rocked a residential neighborhood in southeast Calgary. Huge clouds of toxic black smoke spewed into the air, while ash and debris rained down on homes in the area.

The explosion came one day after a three-week maintenance shutdown at the plant.

The site was used for fuel blending, as well as to store and process hazardous recyclables.

The fires lasted for more than nine hours on Aug. 9, 1999. Approximately 300 residents were evacuated for 20 hours, returning to homes covered in globs of oil, fine dust and shrapnel from exploded refinery vessels.

Tuesday''s charges came as city health officials held a news conference to say the residue from the fire likely poses no long-term risks to residents.

"Our expectation is that they''ve faced the worst of it, that the worst occurred during the explosion and fire and what rained down in the plume," said Dr. Richard Musto, deputy chief medical officer with the Calgary regional health authority.

Musto said a draft report which examines tests of vegetation and soil samples in the communities most affected at the time found chemicals remaining in the environment do not pose a risk to the public.

Timothy Lambert, a risk assessment specialist with the health authority, said the evidence suggests there shouldn''t be a large environmental impact.

"The levels in the community right after the fire were very low, so the concentrations weren''t there to begin with."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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