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After Japanese earthquake, North Vancouver residents raise questions about emergency preparedness plan near chlorine facility

Vancouverites need not fear a scenario like Japan's when it comes to nuclear meltdown.  Vancouver, after all, is a "nuclear free zone."  Yet a group of North Vancouver residents said today that they are concerned that next to them sits a catastrophe waiting to happen should the ground move beneath the Second Narrows Bridge. 

Chlorine is one of the world's deadliest chemicals and it is being produced by the ton under the bridge at the edge of the Burrard Inlet.  From there, it is transported by rail through Vancouver and usually goes south,  making its way to its final destination in Texas.  Chlorine spills over the last two decades have resulted in death, respiratory illness and major evacuations.

John Walkley, the leader of a community association in North Vancouver, has asked his group to get answers from experts about what would happen to the Canexus Chemical facility, in a large earthquake.

"I have received many enquiries from local residents (and calls from CBC, etc.) as to how the Nexen sic (Canexus) Chlorine Plant could withstand an earthquake," Walkley, head of the Maplewood Community Association in North Vancouver, wrote his group on Sunday.  

Walkley said the group needed to determine:

1. What magnitude of earthquake can the various buildings withstand?

2.  What would the inevitable loss of electrical and water supplies do?

3. How vulnerable is the rail transportation of chlorine?

4. What persons living/working close to the chlorine plant (should) do if there is a chlorine leak during an earthquake?  (The "remain in place" recommendation is a bit useless when windows get broken and walls and ceilings develop cracks,) he added referring to current instructions of what to do in chlorine crisis. 

He asked the group to call a special meeting to discuss what would happen in the case of a chlorine release and urged the group to bring in experts to provide "well-documented information."  "CAP (Maplewood Community Association) could recommend an appropriate course of action should (when) an earthquake occur," he said.

"We need to discuss this problem soon, as there is an increasing local concern of this matter," Walkley wrote.

Linda Olivier is a retired clinical nurse specialist. She worked for 30 years in  areas of medicine, surgery and transplantation. She lives in Deep Cove,  close enough to the plant  to be very concerned. She  frequently cycles on trails near the plant and swims in the waters off Strathcona. She is often on transportation routes in the Lower Mainland."I prefer avoiding disasters," she wrote in an email to the Vancouver Observer, expressing concern about Canexus chlorine plant, several days after the earthquake in Japan.

"I believe that public officials have the responsibility to educate and protect the public. I am a mother and want to protect future generations," she said.

Olivier is shocked by the lack of a serious emergency preparedness plan. She has been contacting authorities, advocating for the city to take a hard-nosed look at what she considers to be a major threat to public health.  She wrote Walkley and noted that the chlorine plant sits in a "high-density urban area" on Burrard Inlet, next to the Maplewood Conservation Area and with  the Wild Bird Trust nearby.  Today, she wrote Walkley:

We live in an earthquake zone. We know that in the region called the Cascadia subduction zone, the Juan de Fuca plate is subducting beneath the North American continent (it's about 45 km. beneath Victoria, and about 70 km. beneath Vancouver).

There is evidence that the Juan de Fuca plate and the North American plate are currently locked together, straining the earth's crust. Approximately 300 small earthquakes are located in southwestern BC each year and on average once per decade a significant quake that damages the earth's crust is expected.

A major quake in the 8-9 range is expected at "anytime" when the two plates snap loose.

A chlorine leak could cause human injuries, deaths and environmental contamination.  A moderate size quake e.g. 6-7 R-scale under Vancouver could displace local water causing a tsunami up Indian Arm.

I don't think the idea that Canexus should close after a low R-scale quake is intelligent since that means it would be closed almost every day.

"The recent Japanese disasters have shown that even a relatively serious amount of emergency planning is not guaranteed to be effective in serious releases, so the major effort should be on preventing careless risk-taking corporations from locating the most dangerous facilities, and from operating them, in densely-populated areas on known earthquake faults," Fred Millar a hazardous materials and security consultant based in Washington, D.C. wrote the Vancouver Observer today. 

But Millar says the chlorine plant, while dangerous, would have nowhere near the amount of destructive effects of a nuclear plant. Asked whether the Canexus facility could be Vancouver's own Fukushima Daiichi, he replied, "I don’t think so, in part because the Fukushima radiation impact potentials are so vast, similar to Chernobyl’s, and the crisis on site, the impacts and risk are very likely to be extended for many months.  

A major chlorine release would likely be over in days, not months, but could impact with acute damages to  tens of thousands of people, who could experience long-term lung damage, he said. "If Canexus has a terrible release and it kills 10,000 people, Canexus will go bankrupt and they’ll just walk away. The people in North Vancouver or Vancouver won’t even have someone they can sue."

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