Letter: Ammonia leak response: let’s not overreact

I would like to take issue with Lou Roussinos’s comment that the arenas in BC are a ticking time bomb.

Comments like this cause knee jerk reactions from the safety authorities to over regulate arenas and other small ammonia installations.

I am not familiar with your arena but I have been in many arena compressor rooms in BC.

The ammonia equipment has to be in a specially constructed Class T machinery room with very specific fire rating and ventilation requirements. For the last 16 years BCSA has dictated mandatory supervision or enhanced construction, control & alarms for each plant.

First responders and authorities must react to any situation with the utmost of caution and evacuating a large group of residents can be the result.

In BC the BCSA and Worksafe are causing companies and communities to spend unnecessary funds removing very efficient ammonia plants and putting in less efficient and more harmful to the environment “Freon” plants. The public in arenas are safe; the compressor rooms are basically built to contain the ammonia away from the public. We believe that many of the measures taken in the name of safety are misguided and do not add to the public safety (waste of time and money). There is a larger problem and with proper two way dialogue we can make it safer and/or reduce the panic related to these incidents.

The rest of the world is moving to ammonia and we (in BC) are forcing people away from ammonia, but then again global warming is good for BC as long as you aren’t a lower mainland ski hill.

For example, the regulations in BC require any ammonia plant over 50 kW to have an operator. What the heck does how big of a motor runs the plant have to do with how safe it is? The regulations do not address how much ammonia is in a system (unless it’s a very large plant over 10,000lbs) yet this is the single largest risk associated with ammonia refrigeration.

Issues that the industry and regulators need to address with end users, and the public:

1) Current regulation does not address the volume of NH3 (ammonia). There is no incentive to make the best refrigerant better using small charge or other technology.

2) Regulations date from an era of manual control where personnel had to start/stop machines and open and close valves. The majority of the plants now do that themselves and it is detrimental to have people finger poking.

3) There are now 17 incidents of reported ammonia releases in recent years. Ninety per cent are human error during maintenance or lack there-of, yet most of the enforcement is based on the plant and compressor room construction, or staffing with operators on each site that are not legally allowed to do maintenance by current BCSA regs. I believe a 4th class or higher operator, allowed to move between all arenas in a municipality, would increase safety over what we have now and provide better value for taxpayers.

Why does a plant in Alberta not need an operator? They have safer ammonia? No, they are just better educated on its use. The largest users of ammonia in western Canada are farmers – they tow 10,000 tanks behind their tractors and inject it into the soil for fertilization.

The change in interpretation of the regulations 16 years ago to force arenas to 24 hour supervision if they have not passed a risk assessment has not resulted in safer facilities, just increased costs for the tax payer.

I have made my living every day in this industry for the last 28 years and have a least 15 more to go, and I am worried about its future.

The regulation of the refrigeration industry by BCSA and Worksafe BC is broken. For the good of all of BC (and the future of the environment) regulators need to work hand in hand with end users and contractors, instead of the dictatorial approach of the past.

Blaire Masztalar
Fraser Valley Refrigeration,
Lower Mainland BC

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