Ottawa

Neighbours fear possible water contamination after Eastway Tank explosion

In the aftermath of the fatal Eastway Tank explosion, nearby residents are worried about possible contamination of their drinking water that comes from private wells.

Fatal explosion on Jan. 13 killed 6 employees, critically injured another

An explosion on Jan. 13, 2022, at Eastway Tank, Pump & Meter Limited in south Ottawa killed six people. Nearby residents say they're worried about possible contamination from the blast to their drinking water. (Submitted by Ty Littleton)

In the aftermath of the Eastway Tank explosion nearby residents are worried about possible contamination of their drinking water, though Ontario's environment ministry assures the risk remains low.

The explosion and fire at the tanker truck plant on Jan. 13 killed six employees and critically injured another.

Several agencies including Ottawa police, the coroner's office and the Ministry of Labour are investigating the disaster. Officials from the provincial environment ministry were also called to the site to help with the cleanup and assess any possible damage done to the surrounding environment.

A previous statement from the environment ministry stated the frozen ground and efforts by crews "greatly reduced the likelihood of contamination reaching the water table and entering local drinking water wells."

However, residents are again raising their concerns after former employees came forward to allege the company dumped wastewater containing fuel into a ditch that runs alongside rail tracks behind the property.

In a statement to CBC last week, Eastway Tank's president and owner called the allegations "unfounded" and said the company "has always worked to maintain the highest safety standards."

This picture shows the proximity of Eastway Tank to residential homes, just a few hundred metres away. (Google Maps)

'Our worst fear is being confirmed'

Agnes Warda, who lives less than a kilometre from the explosion site and serves as the vice-president of the local community association, claimed she knew of previous fires and spills at Eastway Tank.

Warda said she's concerned safety practices at the business were "not really enforced."

"I feel that our worst fear is being confirmed and that doesn't make me very happy for the community," she said.

Glens Community Association President Brian Kelly called the former workers' allegations "shocking." He worries about long-term impacts for whatever might have been released into the soil "and potentially the groundwater."

WATCH | Long-term concerns about effects of fire:

Residents concerned about groundwater contamination after Eastway Tank fire

10 months ago
Duration 1:20
Brian Kelly, president of the Glens Community Association, says people living near the site of the Jan. 13 fire on Merivale Road are concerned about the long-term impacts from chemicals that may have been released into the environment.

Private wells in the Pineglen neighbourhood fall under the authority of the environment ministry. In a statement issued Tuesday, a ministry spokesperson said residents' concerns would be "taken seriously" and remain "a key part of the ministry's ongoing assessment at the site."

The ministry did say the risk to residents' wells is low based on "the current depth of frost in the ground and clay-like geology in the area." Both provide a natural barrier between groundwater and the possible contamination to the surface from the fire at Eastway, the statement read.

The statement did not speak to any potential future impacts of the blast or damage caused by possible improper dumping of fuel.

This photo submitted by former Eastway Tank electrician Chris Collins shows the aftermath of a fire involving a street sweeper in March 2021. (Submitted by Chris Collins)

Zoning should be changed, residents say

Warda said the city should not have approved zoning to allow industrial activity so close to a residential area and should do more to protect neighbourhoods that rely on well water.

Area councillor Keith Egli says the zoning decisions and approvals would have likely been made by the former City of Nepean.

"Many of those businesses have been there for a very, very long time, including the site of the fire," Egli said.

The councillor said the city wants to protect people's drinking water, but added it's still "early days" in the investigation and every indication, so far, shows a low risk of contamination.

With files from Alistair Steele

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