Scrap metal plant 'refuses' to shut down after another loud blast

An investigation is underway at American Iron and Metal in west Saint John after another loud blast rattled homes around the Saint John harbour.

Metal recycler's life expectancy in Saint John residential neighbourhood 'getting shorter,' MLA says

The latest explosions at the American Iron & Metal Company Inc. facility in west Saint John occurred at about 8 a.m. Monday morning. The plant did not cease operations after the blast, as the port stipulated it must in a Sept. 20, 2018, letter. (Julia Wright/CBC)

An investigation is underway at American Iron and Metal in west Saint John after another loud blast rattled homes around the Saint John harbour.

The metal recycling plant has been the site of more than 40 explosions in the past 16 months.

The most recent occurred Monday shortly after 8 a.m.

Port Saint John — which is the leaseholder for the facility — stipulated in a Sept. 20 letter to AIM that when an explosion happens, operations must "cease immediately" and they must immediately notify the Port Authority, Department of Environment, emergency and fire officials, the public and adjacent port stakeholders.

The port then determines whether the facility can resume operations.

When American Iron and Metal filed for approval to expand its west Saint John scrap recycling operation, the company's consultants said it would have little impact on its neighbours. (CBC)

AIM continued to operate on Monday after the explosion.

"My understanding was that they were asked [to shut down] and my understanding is that they refused," said Saint John Mayor Don Darling.

Fire officials were also investigating at AIM on Monday after the facility notified Fire Chief Kevin Clifford of the event on Monday.

In a statement, Port Saint John describe the actions and response of AIM with respect to explosions as "unacceptable" and stated it is investigating the cause.

"We can confirm that there is an ongoing investigation of an incident that occurred at American Iron and Metal this morning."

'Not an explosion'

AIM disputes that the loud bangs from the facility, which can be heard as far away as the suburb of Millidgeville, are explosions.

On Oct. 9, AIM site manager Kevin Hughes described the sound as "an infrequent impulse noise that resulted from a contained single burst of pressure following the shredding of some material."

When CBC reached AIM site manager Kevin Hughes by phone on Monday, he stated the blast was "not an explosion," but a "blast of pressure."

AIM has taken issue with the loud bangs from the facility being described as explosions, calling them instead a 'blast of pressure.' (Julia Wright/CBC)

He declined to answer further questions, including whether AIM had been asked to shut down or whether they had complied with the request.

AIM occupies a large piece of port property on the lower west side measuring about 390 metres long and 330 metres wide.

It is closely bordered by residential streets including St. John and Albert streets as well as Queen Street West.

"You can imagine how difficult it would be for folks to sell their houses," Darling said.

"These types of events — explosions every second day — are dramatically impacting people's quality of life."

'This is about the right fit and conditions so that people can live in some level of peace,' said Saint John Mayor Don Darling. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

'Getting worse'

Saint John Harbour MLA Gerry Lowe witnessed the explosion from his home at Robertson's Wharf, across the harbour from the plant.

"I had a window that wasn't locked down and it rattled that," he said. "It was a good one."

Lowe said the frequency of the explosions seems to be on the rise.

"Something has to be done," he said. "I don't think the people should have to live with this type of continuing problem … It's almost constant.

Saint John Harbour MLA Gerry Lowe said he witnessed the explosion from his home on Robertson's Wharf. He said he also heard another, smaller explosion last week from Tin Can Beach. (Connell Smith)

"It seems like it's multiplying. It definitely seems like it's getting worse instead of better."

The facility is in the "wrong place," Lowe said.

"I think back when it went there, if the port had been a lot busier, the port probably wouldn't have put it there. But the port, when they put it there, needed business to survive, too.

"It's a problem that has to be rectified," he said. "I just think their life expectancy there at the port is getting shorter."

City has no jurisdiction

Because the facility is on port land, the City of Saint John has no authority over its operations.

"We have no regulatory authority on this," Darling said.

"It's the port and the province, so we're urging those two groups to fulfil their regulatory and oversight roles," he said.

Darling said the minister of environment is authorized to cancel the facility's approval to operate and issue a new approval with terms and conditions as deemed necessary, if the environmental impacts of the facility are unacceptable.

My understanding was that they were asked [to shut down] and my understanding is that they refused.- Saint John Mayor Don Darling

"There are a whole range of issues around noise, contaminants, hours of operation," Darling said.

"There's a requirement that the raw goods, the materials that are coming in, be free of objectionable materials, including batteries, ozone depleting substances, halocarbons, mercury switches, PCB capacitors, oils, fuels, antifreeze, tires.

"If we didn't have fuels coming into this facility, we wouldn't be having explosions," Darling said.

"This is about the right fit and conditions so that people can live in some level of peace."

Public asked to log concerns

The port is asking the public log their concerns with the Department of Environment by calling 506-658-2558 or emailing elg.egl-region4@gnb.ca.

"The concerns raised are logged and we are advised department officials will follow up with people who leave messages, said Port Saint John spokesperson Paula Copeland in an emailed statement.

Citizens affected by the explosions have scheduled a public presentation Wednesday at 243 Prince William St. at 6:30 p.m. on the facility's impact on the environment, property values and public health.

The mayor is urging the port, and the province, to 'fulfil their regulatory and oversight roles' in relation to the explosions at American Iron and Metal, given the City of Saint John has no jurisdiction over port property. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

"We cannot have the norm be explosions," Darling said.

"You can call them whatever you want. But when folks are feeling the impacts of those events in Millidgeville, on the east side, and in particular the lower west and uptown area, we need change.

"We're trying to have a city that folks feel safe in."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Julia Wright is a reporter based in Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.