Exclusive: Irving Oil dust pollution exceeded limits in Canadian city

Fri Jun 10, 2016 1:32pm EDT
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By Dave Sherwood

(Reuters) - Irving Oil’s refinery in the Canadian province of New Brunswick spewed an excessive amount of ash-like catalyst into the surrounding city of Saint John at least a dozen times since 2010 as regulators launched and later abandoned a study of its health impacts, according to filings reviewed by Reuters.

The previously unreported documents from Irving and provincial regulators, obtained by Reuters under the province’s Right to Information Act, raise fresh questions over the company's environmental record and the province’s capacity to regulate industry.

Such concerns have come into sharper relief since the company agreed in 2013 to become a partner in TransCanada’s proposed Energy East oil pipeline project, which would bring more than 1 million barrels of oil daily from Alberta to the Saint John shoreline in eastern Canada.

The problems at the refinery, Canada's largest, underscore concerns over catalyst releases at refineries around North America. Incidents in Texas, Wyoming, and California, for example, have heightened calls for a better understanding of how the concoction of sand and metal compounds, used in the production of gasoline, affects human health.

Between August 2010 and December 2015, privately held Irving's refinery had repeated operational problems that triggered the releases of the substance, according to monthly reports submitted by Irving to provincial regulators.

The incidents sometimes left surrounding homes, vehicles and backyards coated by the gritty dust, prolonged exposure to which has been linked by the company and health experts to potential lung damage.

Irving Oil spokesman Andrew Carson said the catalyst releases were “unplanned and infrequent” and noted the refinery had not exceeded its annual overall particulate emissions limit during the more than five years examined by Reuters.

"An event like a catalyst release is responded to quickly with very minimal environmental impact,” Carson said.   Continued...

The Irving Oil refinery is photographed at sunset on in Saint John, New Brunswick, March 9, 2014. REUTERS/Devaan Ingraham