A fertilizer plant explosion last week in West, Texas, is causing some people in Saint John to question plans for a $350-million fertilizer production facility in the city.
An explosion at West Fertilizer Co.’s facility has killed 14 people and injured 200, it has also destroyed about 50 homes and damaged many other nearby buildings.
Saint John is known as an industrial city and is home to a liquefied natural gas storage facility, an oil refinery and many other heavy industries.
Atlantic Potash Corp. is proposing to add a fertilizer plant to the city, which could create new jobs and economic investment.
But some residents in the city are also worried about the safety implications of such a facility.
Odette McGrath, the chairperson of the Latimore Lake Area Community Association, said she’s worried the tragedy in West, Texas, could happen in Saint John.
"That scares me. Really what happened up in Texas. Oh my gosh, what happened up there was unbelievable. That's scary," she said.
'Look what those people are going through up there. It's terrible. I don't want that here in Saint John. We don't want that.' — Odette McGrath
"It opens your eyes what can happen in your own neighbourhood. Look what those people are going through up there. It's terrible. I don't want that here in Saint John. We don't want that."
The proposed Saint John facility is still a long way from being complete.
The company announced in February it was working with the city on developing two specialty fertilizer plants in the McAllister Industrial Park.
The facility could employ 570 full-time workers and 1,200 people during the construction phase.
Atlantic Potash Corp. signed a two-year agreement with the Department of Natural Resources in December 2011 to explore the Millstream potash deposit.
Emergency plan needed
Before any work can begin on a fertilizer plant in Saint John, an emergency management plan has to be put in place.
Keith Attoe, a director with Atlantic Potash, was not available for an interview about the company’s safety practices.
But in an email he said, "As we build our processes for our future facility they are being based on best practices, including the strictest of safety regulations. We consider the safety of our workers and our neighbours our top priority."
Saint John’s fire chief said there is always a risk when there are so many industrial facilities in a city.
But Kevin Clifford said his fire department spends a lot of time practising for the worst case scenario.
"We have to know what those different industries have, what risks are involved and they are all different," Clifford said.