New Brunswick

'What's going on?': Saint John residents demand answers in wake of Irving Oil butane leak

Some east Saint John residents are demanding answers after learning butane from a leak that forced the evacuation of their neighbourhood was still being detected nine days after they were allowed to go home.

Safety questioned after report revealed butane was detected 9 days after evacuees were allowed back home

The butane leaked from a four-inch-diameter pipeline adjacent to River Avenue, near the pipeline underpass at Bayside Drive. (CBC)

Some east Saint John residents are demanding answers after learning butane from a leak that forced the evacuation of their neighbourhood was still being detected nine days after they were allowed to go home.

"My concern right now is, it is still going on?" said Abbie Tays, who lives on Pleasant City Street, dubbed "Butane Lane" since the Jan. 8 leak at Irving Oil's nearby Saint John East terminal.

"Why is Irving Oil and [the New Brunswick Department of Environment] not keeping residents in the area informed?"​

Tays was reacting to a consultant's report obtained by CBC News last Friday, which found "some levels" of butane remained in certain manholes and catch basins in close proximity to the ruptured pipeline up until Jan. 22.

Butane is a colourless, highly flammable liquefied gas that quickly vaporizes at room temperature. If inhaled, the gas can cause nausea, asphyxia and arrhythmia.

We want to know what's going on.- Abbie   Tays , resident

The butane readings are not indicated in the remedial action report, prepared by Dillon Consulting Limited and submitted to the Department of Environment, but it notes some homes are within 10 metres of pipeline that runs from the Bayside Drive terminal to the refinery.

All 84 people who were forced from their homes after the leak was discovered were given the all-clear to return by Jan. 13.

Abbie Tays, who lives on Pleasant City Street, a dead-end off River Avenue, said she and her neighbours don't feel safe in their homes, but they've been told Irving Oil is not interested in buying their houses. (CBC)

"I don't feel safe in my home," said Tays, adding the neighbours she has spoken to feel the same.

"This report [dated Jan. 31] is over a month old. What has [been] and is happening since? We want to know what's going on."

Irving Oil has not responded to repeated requests by CBC News for comment.

The Department of Environment has said it will not provide comment because it's still reviewing the consultant's report, which proposes air and soil testing as remediation.

Tory MLA awaits response

Saint John East Progressive Conservative MLA Glen Savoie said he's trying to get answers for Tays and other constituents.

He said he contacted the department mid-last week to ask what the butane levels were, whether it's still being detected and if it poses any risks.

"The safety of the residents is first and foremost," said Savoie.

"We have to make sure that everything is where it's supposed to be in terms of readings and if not then we have to understand why not and make immediate moves to remediate the situation."

Savie said he is awaiting a response from the department before determining next steps.

Crews were observed testing for residual butane vapours behind the homes on Pleasant City Street on Feb. 8, one month after the leak was detected at Irving Oil's terminal on Bayside Drive. (CBC)

Testing is expected to continue until August, according to the report.

The total amount of liquid butane released from the above-ground four-inch-diameter pipeline had still not been determined at the time of the report.

The cause of the line break hadn't been determined either, although a preliminary report suggested it was due to extreme cold weather.

The report does not contain any information about when the leak started.

Some residents who live near the terminal told CBC News they detected an odour for about three days before the leak was discovered on Jan. 8 during a routine inspection.

The pipeline holds an estimated 108 barrels, Irving Oil vice-president and chief operating officer Mark Sherman said at the time. Each barrel holds about 159 litres, for a total of more than 17,000 litres.

Homes on Pleasant City Street, River Avenue, Spruce Avenue, First Street East and Second Street East were evacuated, the Saint John SPCA Animal Rescue shelter was closed and traffic was rerouted around a blocked section of Bayside Drive as emergency responders purged the line and tested for residual vapours.