Westridge residents are sounding the alarm after noticing intense fumes coming from Kinder Morgan’s nearby marine terminal on Burrard Inlet in the last couple months.
Laura Dean has lived in the North Burnaby neighbourhood for 25 years and was disturbed back in August to come across a strong nausea-inducing smell while out for a run along the Drummond bike path.
It was so strong she had to close up all her windows and doors at home. Living next to a facility that loads crude oil and petroleum products onto tanker ships, Dean is used to certain odours once in a while.
But this wasn’t the usual. “After 25 years you have some idea of what’s normal,” she said. “It’s invisible. What are we breathing when it’s not detected until it gets to that level?”
The problem is only evident when there are tankers at the terminal, lately about once a week, she noted.
That also happens to be when her dog, Lacy, a seven-year-old, border collie-labrador cross has been experiencing diarrhea, lethargy and a reluctance to go outside, issues that only started when Dean first noticed the fumes.
Dean said she and other neighbours have become less apt to complain to the pipeline company because past efforts have resulted in no response or action.
“With the expansion and all of that, now we’re thinking this is getting ridiculous. If this is what it is with only 30 tankers [annually], we don’t even want to think of what it’s going to be when it’s 300 to 400 tankers.”
Neighbour Hartwig Boecking, 70, noticed the same fumes on Aug. 1 and complained, first to Kinder Morgan and then, when he got no response, to Metro Vancouver which regulates air quality in the region.
Only then, he said, did he learn the problem was a result of an equipment problem.
For 26 years, Boecking has lived in his Westridge home facing the inlet which is one of four that could be directly affected by a proposed routing option for the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline.
He’s particularly concerned about the recent odour problem after learning that the oil sands crude being exported overseas from the pipeline to the tanker ships is diluted to allow it to flow freely. The chemicals used to dilute it include arsenic and benzene.
“This is really serious stuff, especially for children,” he said. “We have my granddaughter living with us, there are many children in the neighbourhood.”
Boecking understands that accidents can happen, and odour control equipment can malfunction.
Still, “on such an important matter, don’t you have warning system?”
Last week’s protest by Greenpeace Canada at the terminal only added to his worries.
“If Greenpeace can enter the compound in five minutes, what kind of safety [system is there]?”
Burnaby-Douglas New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart has experienced the fumes first hand.
While walking through the area’s trails with his wife over the summer, “we noticed one day we could hardly keep our eyes open, the fumes were so strong,” Stewart said.
“I can’t imagine a massive expansion is going to make it any better.”
He plans to apply for intervenor status at the National Energy Board hearings once Kinder Morgan makes its official expansion application and will be lobbying in an attempt to ensure Burnaby residents are allowed to have input into the project.
Lexa Hobenshield, manager of external relations for Kinder Morgan Canada, said the company has received four odour complaints since Aug. 1.
“Of the four concerns raised, three were determined to be attributable to our operations. In one instance, a device on our odour control equipment was not functioning as it should and was replaced the next day,” Hobenshield said by email. “The other two complaints occurred during normal operations. In one instance we were loading a vessel, and in the other case, routine tank activity was underway at the time.”
She said all complaints are taken very seriously. In the recent cases, “All instances were thoroughly investigated and although we regret any inconvenience to our neighbours, no concern for public health and safety were found as a result of KMCs investigations, supported by Metro Vancouver air quality data,” she said.
Its investigations of odour complaints “involves system checks at our central control centre and an in person investigation at the facility or location of the complaint.
“We consistently review all aspects of our operations and encourage the public to report odour complaints to us. Odour complaints can be reported to 1-888-876-6711.”