Several refinery workers in Alberta’s capital are being monitored for possible health effects after they were potentially exposed to a poisonous flammable gas on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for Suncor Energy.
“At approximately 12 p.m. this afternoon, Suncor responded to a release of hydrogen sulfide from a unit at our Edmonton refinery,” Erin Rees told Global News. “We immediately initiated our emergency response plan and unfortunately, a number of employees and contractors were in the vicinity of that unit and are being assessed by Suncor and Alberta Health Services.”
Rees said AHS sent an undisclosed number of people to hospital for further assessment but did not say what types of injuries, if any, had been sustained. She added the people who were sent to hospital “are all expected to be released later tonight.”
“The affected unit is now stable and as a precaution, employees and contractors in the immediate area were evacuated,” Rees said. “Everyone is accounted for. As per standard operating procedure, we sounded our emergency whistle, so neighbours may have heard that, and that was for the evacuation.”
Rees added hydrogen sulfide was no longer leaking and that an investigation will take place to confirm how the leak occurred. She said Suncor would be working with regulatory agencies to ensure the safety of its workers and people in the area.
Production at the refinery was not impacted, Rees said.
According to Suncor’s website, the refinery processes about 135,000 barrels per day of crude oil “into a wide range of consumer products.”
A Work Safe Alberta document from the provincial government describes hydrogen sulphide as a “colourless and poisonous flammable gas with a strong smell of rotten eggs.”
It is sometimes referred to as “sewer gas” or “stink damp.”
“Hydrogen sulphide is extremely toxic,” the document says. “Workers are exposed when they inhale hydrogen sulphide in air, and this toxic gas is quickly absorbed by the lungs.
“It is believed that exposure to hydrogen sulphide prevents the brain from using oxygen by inhibiting the enzyme cytochrome oxidase.”