Saint John scrap-metal plant ordered to shut down immediately

After months of loud blasts from American Iron and Metal in west Saint John, the scrap-metal company has been ordered to halt work immediately.

Order came Thursday from the Department of Environment and Local Government

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)

The provincial government has ordered a scrap metal recycler to shut down all of its Saint John operations immediately, after dozens of loud explosions on the west side.  

The American Iron and Metal scrap yard, located on Port Saint John property, has been the site of more than 40 explosions in the past 16 months, including several this week.

The company has said about 50 people work at the site.

"The order requiring the immediate shutdown of all operations at the facility was delivered today,'' said Environment and Local Government Minister Jeff Carr.

"We have been deeply concerned about the ongoing environmental issues at the site."

The latest explosions at the AIM scrap yard on the west side occurred at about 8 a.m. Monday. The plant did not cease operations after the blast, as the port stipulated it must in a Sept. 20 letter. (Julia Wright/CBC)

Must eliminate explosions

In addition to stopping work immediately, the order requires the company to submit a plan to eliminate explosions and the impact of excessive noise and vibration within 60 working days.

"It is important that companies work with us, while respecting their neighbours and the environment," Carr said.

The order — which will remain in effect until further notice — comes after weeks of escalating tension between the company and port and city officials.

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

The Saint John recycling operation is located on leased port property (Julia Wright, CBC)

Port Saint John stipulated in a Sept. 20 letter to AIM that when an explosion happens, operations must "cease immediately" and the company 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 operations can resume.

AIM continued to operate on Monday after an explosion.

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

On Thursday night, a group of citizens voiced their concerns about the yard and the explosions during a well-attended meeting at the Harbourfront Residences in uptown Saint John. 

60 days to address issues

Because the AIM operation is on Port Saint John land, it falls within the jurisdiction of the port and the province, Darling said.

The order from the province, he said, may be a step in the right direction. 

"[We have] 60 days here to address some of these issues," Darling said.

"We will continue to bring forward on behalf of citizens their concerns, and the city's concerns. … If what it means is in the short term, we're going to stop some explosions and give people a bit of a reprieve while we have some important dialogue, I think it's a good thing today."

AIM signed a 40-year-lease for its Saint John scrap yard with the Port of Saint John in 2002.

The yard underwent a $30 million expansion in 2011, increasing its capacity to 250,000 metric tonnes of scrap annually. 

If what it means is in the short term, we're going to stop some explosions and give people a bit of a reprieve while we have some important dialogue, I think it's a good thing today. - Don Darling, Saint John mayor

AIM president and CEO Herb Black is scheduled to meet with city and port officials in Saint John on Friday at 2:30 p.m.

"The plan was to present the city's and the citizens' concerns, and a range of themes, if you will, and that's still the plan." Darling said. 

The company, founded in 1936 in Montreal, has 2,500 employees at 80 locations around the world and revenues exceeding $2 billion.

About the Author

Julia Wright

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