HazMat Management


Air quality from hazardous waste fire no more dangerous than idling bus

Test results from the site of an explosion and fire at a hazardous waste treatment plant in Edmonton on May 6, 2005...

Test results from the site of an explosion and fire at a hazardous waste treatment plant in Edmonton on May 6, 2005, show air quality wasn’t a lot worse than sitting behind an idling diesel bus.

According to the Canadian Press, a series of explosions ripped through Custom Environmental Service on Edmonton’s east side last Thursday, sending plumes of dark, acrid smoke into the air. The company handled dangerous substances including PCBs, asbestos, batteries, oilfield waste, magnesium, paints, acids and other corrosive liquids.

Robert Moyles, a spokesman for Alberta Environment, said air quality tests measured particles drifting in the air from the fire, and the rate of hydrocarbons from things such as oil and diesel fuel.

Test results found lower particulate levels than would occur along a dusty country road.

Alberta Environment crews measured about 277 nanograms per cubic metre of hydrocarbons from the fire, Mr. Moyles said.

“If you’re behind an idling diesel bus, it would be between 150 and 200. If the bus accelerates it could be between 800 and 1,000,” Mr. Moyles told the Canadian Press.

Residents living near the site of the blaze need to ask serious questions about the type of monitoring that was conducted as the fire sent plumes of black smoke into the air last week, said Edmonton environmental lawyer Jennifer Klimek.

But while Alberta Environment monitored the air for things such as carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, Jennifer Klimek, an Edmonton environmental lawyer told the Canadian Press that they should have been monitoring for more complex chemicals such as lead, arsenic and PCBs.
“None of those were measured for in the initial period to determine whether or not these people were at risk,” she said.

Mr. Moyles defended the department’s air quality monitoring at the site, adding it was done in a timely way, but said there are no rapid tests for things such as PCBs.

Mr. Moyles expects to get more test results over the next couple of weeks.

Bob Black, Edmonton’s emergency preparedness director, said air quality tests at the site showed the smoke produced was no more dangerous than the average house fire, so they determined an evacuation wasn’t necessary.
“To prematurely evacuate people would have caused as many problems as anything else,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Press.

Families can get separated during an evacuation and there’s a reluctance among emergency officials to have people leave their homes unless absolutely necessary, he said. “At no time did we feel that residents were at threat.”

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