Pyrophoric materials caused Imperial Sarnia tower to fall

A tower fell inside Imperial Sarnia in April due to pyrophoric materials, according to the company.

'We are aware of the risk of pyrophorics in our industry'

A tower that was being prepared for plant maintenance fell inside the Imperial Oil manufacturing site April 2, 2019. (Colin Graf)

Pyrophoric materials have been determined as the cause of an empty fuel processing tower falling at Imperial Sarnia in April.

There were no injuries and no releases to air or water when the tower fell. An investigation has attributed the cause to these materials. 

Pyrophoric materials are substances which can ignite when exposed to air. A Facebook post by Rohan Davis, refinery manager for Imperial Sarnia said they are not an issue during normal plant operations. 

"When specific units are opened for inspection and maintenance, pyrophoric materials can generate considerable heat."

The materials ignite when exposed to air at or below 55 C. They are usually used in sparking mechanisms such as lighters.

"While we are aware of the risk of pyrophorics in our industry, this tower has been opened several times in the past without an issue," said Davis.

Due to the collapse and the investigation, Imperial Sarnia has said its implementing "a number of technical safeguards not only at our site, but across our company" to prevent it from happening again. 

Cleanup and demolition of the impacted area is underway. A new tower will be built locally and elements learned from the investigation will be implemented into the design of the new tower. 

"Safety has no boundaries," said Davis. "Our goal is to learn from this and move forward."