British Columbia

Port Metro Vancouver chemical fire tested city's emergency reponse

The emergency response to the shipping container fire that sent a massive plume of noxious chemical smoke into the Vancouver air was a "good, solid" one, the city's manager says.

Rollout of emergency response plan pleases officials

An emergency response plan was launched in Vancouver Wednesday after a shipping container containing a hazardous chemical caught fire. (Vancouver Fire & Rescue Services)

The emergency response to the shipping container fire that sent a massive plume of noxious chemical smoke into the Vancouver air was a "good, solid" one, the city's manager says.

Penny Ballem was one of several officials answering questions Thursday about the hazardous materials fire at Port Metro Vancouver that sent fumes as far as the North Shore and as far east as Burnaby on Wednesday.

The fire was a good test of the emergency response plan, Ballem said.

"It was the closest we have come to a major evacuation across our city in many, many years."

Dr. Meena Dawar, from Vancouver Coastal Health, said that 13 people had presented at hospitals with irritated respiratory tract symptoms, and that all had been treated and discharged. A further 60 people had called the emergency medical line to seek advice.

She said that considering the amount of fumes and the distance they covered, the health authority was pleased about how the public followed information to stay away from the fire and keep indoors.

Chemicals en route from China to Eastern Canada

According to Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations at Port Metro Vancouver, there was still a 100-metre exclusion zone around the port's container area on Thursday afternoon, but the rest of the site was operating normally.

An evacuation was ordered as toxic smoke billowed. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

The container of trichloroisocyanuric acid that caught fire Wednesday had come from China, and was waiting to be loaded onto a train bound for Eastern Canada.

Xotta said that in 2014, 500 containers of the same industrial disinfectant passed through the port, and there were "three or four cans on the dock as we speak."

He said thousands of containers of hazardous substances pass through the port every year.

What caused the trichloroisocyanuric acid inside the six-metre shipping container to catch fire is still undetermined.

National protocols needed

Fire Chief John McKearney said there was still work to be done informing municipalities about the types and quantities of such chemicals passing through their jurisdictions.

"We are working … mostly at a national level to get these type of protocols," he said. "It takes some times to build those policies, but we are going to continue to work forward on that."

Dan Woods of the fire department's hazardous materials unit said the container was quickly identified.

"We took a defensive action to make sure we weren't going to have an explosion," he said.

Fair weather helped

Asked about potential pollutants in local water supplies and the ocean, Woods said that the water quality had been under constant scrutiny from the outset, with the Environment Ministry on site as part of that work.

"They're satisfied in the current condition, that there's now no concurrent run-off from this fire … right now the scene is considered stable in their eyes," Woods said.

The weather, he said, had also helped.

"We have graciously no rain today. We've got manhole covers blocked, we've isolated the drains in and around the containers."

The only hiccup in the emergency response, Ballem said, was that a number of drivers were ticketed or had their cars towed after being forced to abandon them beyond the regular commuting-hours parking restrictions.

Those tickets would be waived, she said.


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