Prince Rupert is the latest in a list cities where individuals have been injured as a result of exposure to ammonia at an arena or recreational facility.
According to a case study released by Technical Safety BC, there were 59 cases of ammonia release incidents reported to the organization between 2007 and 2017.
Of those 59 cases, 14 of those incidents resulted injury, 10 of which took place either at an arena or recreational facility.
These incidents range in their cause and severity from minor incidents to major ones, such as the October 2017 ammonia release in Fernie where three workers died after exposure in the arena’s mechanical room.
Jean-Paul Lacoursiere, a former professor of industrial risk management at the University of Sherbrook, said the potential risk of concentrated ammonia exposure is why there are strict rules governing its storage and the storage of other refrigerants.
“Normally the refrigeration equipment is housed inside a mechanical room,” said Lacoursiere. “This room is leak proof and has to be tested to be leak proof to make sure that gases won’t go into the arena if there is a leak.”
Lacoursiere added that vertical ventilation is an important requirement of ammonia storage as leaks can be very dangerous. Ammonia, which is a heavy gas, sinks to the ground and can travel 300-500 metres depending on how much is released into the environment.
Lacoursiere said if the concentration of ammonia in the atmosphere exceeds a certain threshold, it can kill or cause physical harm.
“That’s why it’s important to ensure that you don’t have that gas on the ground,” he said.
After the Fernie incident, the City of Prince Rupert stated that the civic centre’s facilities had undergone recent risk assessments and were regularly audited by Technical Safety BC “…to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to maintain equipment and keep patrons safe.”
In the time since the July 4 incident at the civic centre, the tank that leaked has been removed from the civic centre grounds and WorkSafeBC has been on site conducting an investigation.
In an emailed statement, the city said they have ensured that all remaining ammonia has safely been stored to prevent further incident and they are taking steps to ensure another incident does not take place.
“Our task now is to determine why this incident occurred, and to integrate all findings into future practices regarding ammonia storage,” said city communications manager, Veronika Stewart, in the email. “Despite this incident, we do remain confident in our ammonia alarm system and emergency evacuation procedures, which were both effective in fully evacuating our facility during the incident.”