No action on ammonia leak

NNSL file photo On July 18, a fire department vehicle drives through the empty parking lot of the NorthMart grocery store. It and several other businesses were closed because of an ammonia leak in the old Don Stewart Recreation Centre being demolished at the time.

NNSL file photo
On July 18, a fire department vehicle drives through the empty parking lot of the NorthMart grocery store. It and several other businesses were closed because of an ammonia leak in the old Don Stewart Recreation Centre being demolished at the time.

The Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) will not be taking any action as a result of an ammonia leak on July 18 during the demolition of the old rec centre.

“The WSCC has concluded our inspection of the ammonia leak incident in Hay River,” stated spokesperson Kim Walker on Sept. 15. “We did not issue any directions as a result of this inspection.”

Directions are instructions given by the commission under the Safety Act. A direction would require a party to take certain actions to ensure compliance with the act and its regulations. 

Instead, the commission deferred the matter to the Department of Public Works and Services.

The GNWT Department of Public Works and Services chief inspector, appointed under the Boilers and Pressure Vessels Act, also conducted an inspection of the ammonia leak incident,” stated Walker. “The chief inspector cleared the site following actions taken by a contractor with specialized experience in events of this nature to secure the system. Based on the information gathered, and the steps taken by the chief inspector, the WSCC determined no further orders or directions were necessary.”

The old rec centre – except for the relatively-new swimming pool – has been torn down and a new one will be built on the same site.

In response to follow-up questions from The Hub, Walker explained on Sept. 16 that the

WSCC cannot provide a copy of the inspection report into the ammonia leak.

“The Safety Act requires all information gathered under the act to be kept confidential except for certain circumstances described in Section 11,” she said.

A section of the downtown core was cordoned off and evacuated on July 18 because of the ammonia leak.

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

At the time of the incident, Fire Chief Ross Potter, who is also the town’s director of protective services, attributed the cause to human error.

“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.”

In a news release on July 18, Mayor Brad Mapes stated 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, also said at the time the leak was caused by human error.

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

The WSCC’s investigation is ongoing into a separate incident in which a worker was injured at the demolition site on July 26.

According to the WSCC at the time, the worker was injured while operating a scissor-lift.

–Paul Bickford