Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tough rules needed for hazardous sites

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The Mission Industrial Neighbourhood in northeast St. Boniface is a disaster waiting to happen. But you wouldn't know it by the lackadaisical bureaucratic response of all three levels of government to an explosion at Speedway International last year that forced the evacuation of residents within 800 metres of the blast.

The area has nearly 1,000 acres of industrial manufacturing, including chemicals, batteries, machinery and plastics, as well as a slaughterhouse, rendering plant, railways, garbage incineration, grain storage, bio-diesel manufacturing -- you name it, it's there -- the largest concentration of hazardous industry in Winnipeg.

A civic report recommends incentives to encourage residents to relocate, but it's not really a solution because the industrial zone borders on several mature neighbourhoods that are easily within striking distance of a major catastrophe.

In the case of the Speedway disaster, the province licensed the company to store methanol and manufacture bio-diesel fuel, but the company never obtained an occupancy permit from the city, as required. The city subsequently discovered 12 bylaw violations, although it's not known if any of them contributed to the explosion.

The civic report is silent on why the process broke down in this case, but answers are needed. If the permit process had been followed, the city and its firefighters would have known about the risk.

The hands of the city and province are also tied by federal policy which excludes rail companies from the need to acquire provincial environmental licences for hazardous goods. It means companies can use rail cars as holding tanks, which effectively keeps their cargo a secret.

Provincial governments have demanded new regulations that would force railways to disclose if they are carrying hazardous goods, particularly after the disaster at Lac Megantic, but the wheels of change are slow to turn.

Firefighters already conduct mandatory inspections of schools, seniors homes and other institutions, but there is no legislated authority for inspections of hazardous sites.

That has to change, so firefighters can make regular inspections at industrial neighbourhoods.

The best policy to prevent disasters is aggressive inspections, open disclosure and strict adherence to the rules, none of which happened prior to last year's explosion in St. Boniface.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2013 A6

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