WSCC investigating gas leak

NNSL file photo A fire department vehicle drives through the empty parking lot of the NorthMart grocery store on July 18. The store and several other businesses were closed as a result of an ammonia leak in the old Don Stewart Recreation Centre, currently being town down to make way for a new centre.

NNSL file photo
A fire department vehicle drives through the empty parking lot of the NorthMart grocery store on July 18. The store and several other businesses were closed as a result of an ammonia leak in the old Don Stewart Recreation Centre, currently being town down to make way for a new centre.

As of late last week, the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) was still investigating the ammonia leak on July 18 during demolition of the old rec centre.

“We are currently completing an inspection at the site of the old recreation centre in Hay River to ensure compliance with our legislation, the Safety Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations,” said Kim Walker, the commission’s manager of communications in e-mailed responses to questions from The Hub.

In general, such a process could involve phone calls, an on-site inspection, taking witness statements and/or collecting information.

“We cannot reveal any further details while the inspection is ongoing,” said Walker.

She could not say how long such an investigation would take, except to explain they vary depending on the complexity of an incident.

“Depending on the findings, there are a number of avenues open to the safety officers under the Safety Act and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, including but not limited to prosecution,” she said.

Walker pointed out that Section 416 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations requires employers to remove hazardous chemicals or biological substances from structures prior to demolition.

“This is not meant to indicate that this requirement fits this particular situation or whether or not there was any contravention of this section,” she added.

A section of the downtown core was cordoned off and evacuated on July 18 because of the ammonia leak at the old Don Stewart Recreation Centre.

The ammonia leak could not be shut off and the gas was allowed to dissipate into the air. The evacuation ended at about 9 p.m. on July 18.

Fire Chief Ross Potter, who is also the town’s director of protective services, said the fire department’s investigation is complete.

“Pretty much all we found was an employee made a mistake,” he said. “While removing cladding, he cut some pipes that he wasn’t supposed to cut, and that’s what caused the leak.”

Potter said a meeting was held with Clark Builders and it subcontractors about the incident.

“I’m pretty confident it’s not going to happen again,” he said. “I think everybody is going to be dotting their ‘I’s and crossing their ‘T’s from this point.”

Accidents do happen, said Potter. “It’s sad they do, but they do happen. It’s human to make mistakes.”

In a news release on July 18, Mayor Brad Mapes said a gas line containing ammonia was hit by a worker using a reciprocating saw.

Ammonia is used in the freezing system for arena ice.

An area was cordoned off to a minimum of 90 metres from the ammonia leak, which included the swimming pool, Godwin Mall, Driftwood Diner, The Source and NorthMart.

Ammonia can cause respiratory problems and even be fatal in high concentrations.

Dave Brothers, vice-president of northern operations with Clark Builders, the main contractor for the demolition of the old rec centre, was disappointed the incident occurred.

“Clark Builders and myself personally are not very happy with the situation,” he said. “We don’t expect these things to happen. We have measures in place so it doesn’t happen.”

The leak was caused by human error, he said. “It’s unfortunate. The issue has been resolved and we’re going to make it right, and hopefully the rest of the project is going to go well.”

Brothers said a worker with a subcontractor cut the pipe containing the ammonia.

“Basically, a worker was in an area that he was not supposed to be and he was instructed not to be in that area,” he said. “It was a human error and he went in the area and cut a pipe by accident.”

Brothers said there is now no ammonia left in the old rec centre.

As of July 20, he said all the gas had been removed and the system has been purged.

–Paul Bickford