New Brunswick

36 blasts recorded at American Iron & Metal site in 16 months

Records from New Brunswick's Department of Environment and Local Government show just how routine explosions are at American Iron and Metal's Saint John recycling facility.

Explosive work is 'part of business,' says WorkSafeNB

Neighbours who live near the American Iron & Metal's west Saint John facility say the sound of explosions, machine noise and air pollution are common. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

Records from New Brunswick's Department of Environment and Local Government show just how routine explosions are at American Iron and Metal's Saint John recycling facility.

Since June 1, 2017 there have been 36 blasts — small and large — at the waterfront site.

The data shows 17 explosions at the site over a seven month period in 2017, followed by a further 17 over the first five months of 2018.

The summer of 2018 was largely explosion free with no blasts recorded in June, July or August.

But neighbours say the boom they felt Sept. 14 was the most significant so far.

"It rocked my china cabinet, my bed. It woke up my entire house," said Emily Kinney of Blue Rock Road, who is not at all surprised to learn the official count sets the number of blasts at the site at 36.

Friday's explosion was not even the most recent at the AIM site: Another was reported to the Department of Environment on Monday. 

Mark Wallace, whose home on Albert Street looks down on the facility, makes the same observation.

"No, that doesn't surprise me at all. Thirty-six, that's probably an understatement to be honest with you," Wallace said.

Life has changed

Life at the longtime family home, he says, has been turned on its head since the facility appeared in 2011.

"The smell and the smoke, it's sickening is what it is. It just kind of makes you sick to your stomach. It's that bad."

American Iron and Metal did not respond Wednesday to CBC's questions about the Department of Environment records.

Mark Wallace, who lives beside American Iron & Metal, says his family home hasn't been the same since the reycling facility appeared in 2011. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)
But on Monday, the company's Saint John site manger, Kevin Hughes told CBC the explosions are not a danger and are confined to an enclosed "chamber" in the metal shredding building that is "designed to withstand" the impacts.

He said the cause of Friday's blast "has to be a contained gas unit, like a tank, propane tank or acetylene or something like that."

In June 2017 a company spokeswoman told CBC gas containers hidden in the trunks of crushed vehicles cause blasts at the facility "from time to time."

Moving out

Emily Kinney says she's made the decision to leave when her apartment lease expires next July.

She hopes to find a new place to live in the Grand Bay-Westfield area.

Steven Hughes made that decision a year ago and has since moved with his family to Fundy Heights.

"For us the vibrations [from the explosions] were actually more of a concern," Hughes said. "We were close enough that we're quite sure that it damaged the foundation of our house."

Hughes said air quality is also a major factor. He describes it as an "oily, metallic taste" that hangs in the air.

The final nudge for the family of six was a large explosion on June 6, 2017.

Unable to sell their home, they cashed in RRSP's to buy a second one. Hughes says that then lead to a $14,000 tax bill. Their child tax credit was also reduced.

They're much happier in their new home and, while an attempt to sell the other one was unsuccessful, they found a tenant who does not seem to mind the nearby scrap facility.

Explosion investigated

WorkSafe New Brunswick investigated Friday's explosion at the recycling site.

In a statement Wednesday, Director of Communications, Laragh Dooley said they do not expect to look into the matter further.

"Explosive work is part of the employer's course of business," Dooley said. "And a safety procedure was in place."