Up to 23 people were taken to hospital after an acid leak at an automotive plant in St. Catharines on Tuesday, though all were expected to be discharged before the end of the day.
St. Catharines Fire Chief Dave Upper said the incident occurred at THK Rhythm Automotive, which is a manufacturing facility located on Louth Street, south of Fourth Avenue.
“Shortly after 9:00 this morning, a contractor was working at THK Rhythm Automotive,” Upper told Global News Radio AM 900 CHML.
“During their work, they accidentally bumped a valve which opened up and released approximately five litres of hydrochloric acid. That acid in liquid form transformed to a vapour cloud.”
Upper said three workers were exposed through inhalation and skin exposure.
“They quickly shut the valve off once they recognized there was a spill. There was 20 other workers in the area. They all self-evacuated but the 20 other workers were also exposed to the vapour cloud,” Upper said.
He said when emergency crews arrived at the scene, everyone had already self-evacuated. The area was secured and crews worked to triage the patients.
There are decontamination showers on-site and those who were exposed went through the showers before they were transported to hospital, Upper said.
Three of the workers went to hospital via ambulance, while a city bus was called to transport the other 20, he added. The workers who were in the area at the time but not as exposed were taken to hospital for precautionary reasons, he said.
In terms of the severity of injuries regarding the three workers who were more directly exposed, Upper said “it’s hard to gauge at this time.”
“We know that the type of inhalation exposure sometimes doesn’t show itself till hours later,” he said.
“So although they were able to walk themselves, self-rescue, and then walk to the showers, we don’t know the severity of the injuries until hours later. So they’ll continue to be monitored in the hospital.”
In an update Tuesday afternoon, Niagara Health, which treated the patients at its St. Catharines site, said all were expected to be discharged before the end of the day.
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The Canadian Press reports that Niagara Region Emergency Medical Services Supt. Bryce Brunarski said paramedics found three people who were exposed directly to the vapour cloud.
He said they were decontaminated by facility staff and urgently taken to hospital in stable condition.
Brunarski said paramedics took another nine people to hospital with minor exposure and another 10 asymptomatic individuals who had limited exposure to the leak were taken to hospital on a city bus.
Niagara Health first posted about the incident online.
The hospital system said it was expecting to receive up to 23 at its St. Catharines site after a “hazardous materials incident” in the community.
“We are asking the community to please avoid the emergency department at the St. Catharines Site and only visit if you have a life-threatening or critical emergency,” it said at the time.
Niagara Health had asked anyone who needed non-urgent or life-threatening care to report to a different emergency room but operations have since returned to normal at its St. Catherines location.
“This was an excellent example of our healthcare team coming together to handle a serious situation in a calm, efficient and professional manner,” Niagara Health President and CEO Lynn Guerriero said.
“Our healthcare teams are under more pressure than ever before, but this response shows why we say our people are our greatest asset.”
The hospital system said emergency department physicians, nurses and staff all assisted, in collaboration with first responders. They began to receive patients at 10:41 a.m.
Upper said the Ministry of Labour was at THK Automotive along with a hazardous materials mitigation company that cleared the vapour cloud and was working to clean up the “minor spill.”
Once it’s completely cleaned, they will do some monitoring to ensure the facility is safe and can be reopened again, Upper added.
— With files from The Canadian Press