Ministry of Environment wants detailed report on explosion at Hamilton steel factory
"No elevated concentrations of suspended particulate matter," says ministry
The provincial government says it has requested a "detailed report" investigating the explosion at a steel factory in Hamilton, which sent clouds of brown and red smoke into the air on Christmas day.
The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks says it will follow up with the company, ArcelorMittal Dofasco, on Tuesday to investigate the cause and gather any additional information.
Ministry staff, who attended the site, "will monitor the situation to ensure the appropriate actions are taken to protect human health and the natural environment," said ministry spokesperson Lindsay Davidson.
Residents of Hamilton, Stoney Creek, and Burlington reported hearing the blast from the city's waterfront industrial zone on Dec. 25. They told CBC News it sounded like "bombs going off" with one person noting that the air smelt of sulfur.
The ministry says its spills action centre received multiple complaints about the clouds of smoke seen across the region. It found that a fire broke out in an ArcelorMittal blast furnace at 300 Wilcox Street, north of Burlington Street.
The company reported around 11:10 a.m. that "a large eruption from their slag handling operations" caused the release of "significant emissions" into the air.
Marie Verdun, a spokesperson for ArcelorMittal Dofasco said they believe the explosion was caused by molten slag and iron coming in contact with water that was in the slag pit. This caused a series of eruptions, she said.
The company has undertaken an internal investigation into the cause of the incident, says the ministry.
The ArcelorMittal Dofasco Fire Department was able to get the fire under control, according to the ministry.
Davidson said there were no injuries and no major damage to critical infrastructure at the blast furnace, though three small storage buildings were damaged by the explosion and fire.
The ministry said there are no catch basins in area, and the company reported that the fire water was contained to the immediate area, meaning there "were no surface water impacts."
It also said that no offsite impacts from particulate fallout have been observed.
"The local Hamilton Air Monitoring Network stations were reviewed and there were no elevated concentrations of suspended particulate matter," said Davidson.
Environment Hamilton waiting on report
ArcelorMittal Dofasco emailed the community liaison committee after the blast happened, said Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, an organization that serves on the committee.
She's thankful no workers were hurt, and is keenly watching for any information in the aftermath.
"Obviously they don't want something like this to keep on happening, but neither do the rest of us," she said. "So we just want to understand more of what's happened and how they'll ensure that something like this, moving forward, is avoided at all costs."
Lukasik said she wonders if this occurrence was a "pit management issue." The company has invested, she said, in the slag pelletization process at the particular furnace affected. The process is designed to take place under a hood to minimize emissions, but she said the explosion seemed to happen before that.
"Normally, to their credit, they've got a system in place there that is really designed to handle the slag in probably the best way that these mills can handle it right now," Lukasik said.
She also noted that while this was an "extreme incident" that "rocked the community," she wants people to understand that there are ongoing releases of carcinogens — benzene and benzo(a)pyrene — from the factory's coke ovens daily, which the public doesn't see as clearly as Friday's explosion.
Verdun said that the reaction would have been comprised of "mostly iron, iron oxide and water vapour, as well as silica, calcium, magnesium, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide."
With files from Dan Taekema