North Okanagan arena ammonia tests yield mixed results

Are north Okanagan and Shuswap arenas at risk of ammonia leak?
Watch Above: In the wake of an ammonia leak at Fernie's arena last October that tragically claimed the lives of three people, many rinks around the province had to undergo safety testing. Those results are now in and reporter Megan Turcato has followed up to find out if arenas in the north Okanagan and Shuswap found any red flags.

Update: A second test of the brine at the Pat Duke Memorial Arena in Lumby, dated February 15, found no ammonia in the brine.

In many Canadian towns, the local skating rink is an important community hub.

However, the deaths of three people from an ammonia leak at the Fernie arena in October was a sad reminder they aren’t without risk.

In the wake of the tragedy, Technical Safety BC issued an order requiring many arenas to test for ammonia in their ice plant brine.

READ MORE: Hundreds of mourners come out in the cold to say goodbye to Fernie leak victims

“If there is actually ammonia in the brine system, it is a possible indicator of a leak,” Janice Lee, director of safety oversite at Technical Safety BC, explained.

“We expect owners and operators, once they get the test results of these brine reports, to conduct further investigation because it is about a potential [problem].”
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Lee said added testing may include checks to make sure there was not an issue with the sample or testing of the equipment to ensure there is no leak.

How did North Okanagan and Shuswap rinks fair? Tests at arenas in Armstrong, Salmon Arm, and Vernon all came back negative.

But tests at three other local rinks in Sicamous, Enderby and Lumby found ammonia.

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In 2015, Enderby discovered a leak after ammonia was noticed in the rink’s cooling brine.

“We had our chiller repaired and got it back into service for that season. At the end of that season we replaced the entire unit,” Sheldon Tokairin, with the City of Enderby, explained.

A test last December still showed 61 ppm of ammonia in the brine.

“That’s like one grain of sand sitting in 100 gallons of water. It’s very little,” Norman Lockerby, who owns Norlock Refrigeration, explained.

The city said that ammonia is leftover from the 2015 issue and there’s no concern about a new leak.

“It’s residual ammonia still in the brine and we are going to get some chemicals to take care of it,” Tokairin said.

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It’s a similar situation in Sicamous where the chiller was replaced in 2017 after ammonia got into the brine.

“There is no further leak within the system. That was completely repaired and the chiller was replaced. What we are dealing with now is a residual amount from that initial leak,” Ryan Nitchie, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s team leader for community services, said.

Lumby also found some ammonia in their test.

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“We are uncertain at this time why we are seeing the ammonia. It is a very trace amount,” said Dave Manson, the superintendent of operations for the Village of Lumby.

They’ve ordered a new test of the Pat Duke Memorial Arena to see if ammonia levels are rising and have plans to replace equipment.

“We are not extremely concerned at this time,” Manson said.

“If we do see an increase then we would look at mitigation measures.”

READ MORE: Emergency crews respond to ammonia leak in southeast Calgary

Overall, Technical Safety BC said the majority of B.C.’s arenas have been tested.

“The results are showing a good compliance in the province. Of course, if we do find any sites where it is perhaps out of range, we will do follow up,” Lee said.

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