The Horne Foundry, in Rouyn-Noranda. (File photo)
The Horne Foundry in Rouyn-Noranda confirms that it accidentally released sulfur trioxide (SO3) late Monday morning due to a “minor leak” that allegedly hit one of the lines in its acid plant.
This situation would have lasted about fifteen minutes and would not present any risk to the population, according to the Public Health Department (DSPu) of Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
In summary, it is It should be noted that based on the information received by the DSPu, there has not been and there is currently no danger to the health of the population in connection with this leak of gas. No preventive intervention is therefore required on the part of the population, continues public health.
This opinion is shared by Urgence-Environnement (UE), an organization headed by the Ministry of the Environment and responsible for reducing the harm caused by environmental disasters.
The emanation would be due to a failure of the factory's chimneys. This would have lasted a maximum of 30 minutes. A security perimeter has been set up for plant employees, said Frédéric Fournier, spokesperson for UE.
Like the DSPu, UE estimates that the city of Rouyn-Noranda would not have been affected by these fumes due to the direction of the winds. The winds were from the southeast, at a speed of about 6 km/h. There would therefore have been no impact on the city, adds Mr. Fournier.
This episode of sulfur trioxide fumes would have occurred around 11:20 a.m. Monday morning. The Ministry of the Environment made the announcement on Twitter late Monday afternoon. A similar publication followed a few hours later on the organization's Facebook page.
The Abitibi-Témiscamingue Integrated Health and Social Services Center (CISSS) indicates for its part to have been informed Monday in the middle of the afternoon, at 2:50 p.m.
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We make sure that all the measures are put in place to ensure the protection of the surrounding population, mentions Frédéric Fournier, giving the example of the security perimeter erected by the Horne Foundry.
“You have to understand that this was for a maximum of 30 minutes. There were no other actions to put in place at this level. On the other hand, if it had lasted over time, there could have been other things. »
— Frédéric Fournier, spokesperson for Urgence-Environnement
The Horne Foundry confirms by email that a leak of sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide has been reported by employees.
Considering the minor SO3 leak, we purged and shut down the plant as well as delineated a restricted safety perimeter around the leak. We have contacted the Ministry of the Environment to report the spill without delay. Subsequently, the expansion joint that connects two sections of pipe [from the acid plant] and where the leak was located was quickly repaired. We were then able to proceed with the safe resumption of operations, specifies in writing Cindy Caouette, superintendent of communications and community relations for the Horne Foundry.
Invited to answer questions from Radio- Canada, the CISSS de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue and the Horne Foundry preferred to stick to written statements.
The situation at the Horne Foundry hardly surprises Marc Olivier , chemist and professor-researcher at the Center for Technology Transfer in Industrial Ecology.
Mr. Olivier points out that zero risk does not exist and that it is therefore normal for industrial equipment to experience malfunctions on an occasional basis.
It is impossible for a technology, a process, to operate 365 days a year without experiencing failures. It is a basic principle. What we want is to manage risks to reduce as much as possible the occasions when we will lose control. And if we lose control because of a piece of equipment that stops working, we must be able to quickly regain control, as it seems to have been the case during the fleeting episode at the Foundry Horne on Monday, he pointed out.
Marc Olivier also considers plausible the explanations of Urgence-Environnement on the direction of the winds, which would have made it possible to lessen the impacts of sulfur trioxide on the territory of Rouyn-Noranda.
However, he warns that sulfur trioxide fumes still have an impact on the environment, in particular by contributing to the formation of acid precipitation.
Whenever a factory, somewhere loses sulfur dioxide and this transformation begins [towards sulfur trioxide], it is an additional contribution to acid precipitation, observes Mr. Olivier.
“On the intensity of the event, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes isn't much more in a world that is already polluted by a constant background of acid precipitation that falls on us because of our neighbors across borders. In that sense, it's not a disaster [about Monday's fumes]. »
— Marc Olivier, chemist
The DSPu of Abitibi-Témiscamingue reports in its press release that sulfur trioxide causes burns to the respiratory tract, lungs and eyes if exposed.