Fairview Container Terminal in Prince Rupert. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Transport Canada reveals more details on 2018 leak at northern B.C. port

An unknown substance sent five employees to hospital at Prince Rupert’s container terminal

by Shannon Lough

At 1:13 p.m., a strange odour leaked into the marine container terminal in Prince Rupert, causing five employees to feel light-headed and nauseous — by 1:30 p.m. on July 11, 2018, the terminal manager shut down all operations to the second largest container terminal in Canada.

This incident triggered DP World, the terminal operator, to introduce new safety measures in Prince Rupert, including having an industrial hygienist on site. But the results of what mysterious substance caused the evacuation remains to be seen.

In documents obtained by The Northern View through an access to information request, the day’s events were laid out in a series of emails between marine safety inspectors at Transport Canada staff and DP World’s director of operations for Fairview Terminal in Prince Rupert.

“I just spoke with Ricardo [sic] Goncalves, the manager of port security with the Prince Rupert Port Authority,” wrote Gabriel Mastico, Transport Canada. “He indicated that while no cause has been determined, the investigation is focused on a tanker containing methyl ethyl ketone (UN1193). They believe the tanker is venting product.

“There have been two similar incidents in the recent past.”

On Dec. 2017, the terminal was evacuated after employees were sent to the hospital with symptoms of respiratory irritation. DP World later stated the source came from an improperly secured ventilation hatch on a tank containing Butyl Acetate, a chemical used for synthetic fruit food flavouring.

READ MORE: DP World locates source of hazmat incident at Fairview

Another incident occurred on Sept. 4, 2017, when 11 employees were sent to hospital for symptoms of respiratory and eye irritation. The terminal suspended activity, and an external industrial hygienist was sent to test the air quality. No contaminants were found, and there were no details on the substance that caused the irritation.

READ MORE: Fairview Terminal halts operations after incident involving 11 workers

What the emails revealed about the July incident was that the tanker came from the MV Irenes Warwick, a container ship that is identified as carrying Hazard A (Major) cargo, which is considered hazardous, such as corrosive, flammable or poisonous.

In the situation report to Transport Canada, at 3:55 p.m. on July 11, it states that the five employees were treated by paramedics, and the source of the smell is unknown. The rail corridor was shut down, and a hazmat team from Vancouver flew up to investigate.

GHD First Fast Incident Response Service Team arrived at the terminal at approximately 6 p.m., and reported that no hazardous atmosphere was detected. The source of the leak was still undetermined.

The crew aboard the MV Irenes Warwick were restricted from landing on the dock, and a 400-metre safety parameter was set up around the suspected container in the yard.

On July 12, the hazmat team completed a second scan of the terminal area and no chemicals or radiation were detected. The source of the leak was also left undetermined.

The container terminal reopened for business as usual at 8 a.m.

After being notified of the leak at Fairview Terminal, Transport Canada inspectors went on-site to gather more information and assess the incident.

Inspector, Pierre Ka-Ling Wong, followed up with an email on Friday, July 13 with a final rundown of the cargo leak events.

A “possible pollutant with garlic like smell” put five longshore employees in the hospital and 10 were sent to visit a clinic.

One of the suspected sources was found on a bomb cart chassis [the name of the trailer used for containers]. Samples were collected and sent away to a laboratory for testing. A gas detector was used to determine if the substance was phosphine gas, but the results were negative. “No doubts remain,” Wong wrote.

“Further investigation will be carried out on 4 more different chemicals identified on the manifest and that [sic] to be carried out by the GHD team.”

The MV Irenes Warwick was approved to leave the terminal at 4:30 p.m. on July 13, 2018.

READ MORE: Five container yard employees hospitalized after being exposed to “unknown substance”

As for the results from the laboratory, that information was redacted by Transport Canada. Reasons for censuring the results include: that disclosure could be injurious to international affairs and defence financial; commercial, scientific or technical information given in confidence to the government and treated in a consistently confidential manner by the third party; and information that could result in a financial loss or gain.

However, the “next steps” below the censured preliminary lab results stated that the hazmat team would try to “fingerprint the material found on trailer #354” and will do an additional analysis to include pesticides and fertilizers.

Following DP World’s investigation by the external hazmat response team, the terminal operator has ramped up safety at Fairview to confirm their commitment to “zero-harm.”

“As a result, of this incident, DP World Prince Rupert implemented additional safety measures. An industrial hygienist was added to the local safety team to expedite and qualify air quality assessments; specialized instrumentation with the ability to detect airborne occupational health hazards was acquired; and a real-time air monitoring system has been installed adjacent to the terminal,” said Angela Kirkham, spokesperson for DP World, in an emailed statement.

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