I recently started doing some editing and writing for a company newsletter up here. I thought you might be interested in this story about some pretty heroic people. Who knew that civilians could also work as a first response team? Here it is:
It could have been a disaster. A few months ago, terrifying pictures flashed across our TV screen and appeared on our front pages. A spill of sulphuric acid had occurred when an Ontario Northland train had jumped its tracks. The nation gasped. Englehart’s townspeople had been warned not to drink the water, or even use it for their livestock.
Out of the focus of the camera lenses, a brave and determined team from our site worked a marathon schedule in difficult conditions in order to make things right. “When there is a spill of our product in Canada, the closest site sends a team out right away,” says Perry Harvey, head of our team members during the cleanup. “It’s part of Xstrata’s ‘Responsible Care’ program. When a spill occurs, we are the first ones on site.” Timmins was given the call and leapt into action. Two key members of the HSMAT team were sent right away to assess the damage and begin planning, while the remaining members prepared to send eight more to battle the spill. When the team arrived, they discovered that fifteen S.A. tank rail cars, and seven box cars of zinc and copper, all our products, as well as sixteen other cars had derailed. A daunting 1.78 million pounds of acid needed to be transferred or otherwise dealt with, but this was no easy task as the terrain and the weather conditions were dangerous. The train had jumped the tracks far into the bush. If any member of the team were to become injured, it would take at least twenty minutes to get to where the ambulance was stationed. Since the acid had flowed into the Blanche River there was no potable water on site to maintain the emergency showers which would have to be used in case someone became contaminated. There were no roads into the area so all tools and supplies would have to be carefully planned. The team and their tools would need to be shipped down the rail directly to the site, and since the weather had fluctuated that weekend, the slope down to the river was treacherous.
Our team took it all in stride. Working with the utmost concern for safety and in extreme caution, they began by hosing down the area to dilute the acid so that the team could work on it. They also built safe working platforms and made a ramp and ladder to improve the footing on the slope. They were soon supplemented by the Sudbury crew who worked with them in gruelling twelve hour shifts, twenty four hours a day. Using a special pump to take the acid out of the overturned cars and into new cars, they laboured to save the product, and clean the area, all the while avoiding contamination. A few times they needed to cut new holes in the overturned tanks to retrieve the fluid. They also covered the acid laced ground with soda ash in order to neutralize it. The ash turned the acid into harmless water, heat, and carbon dioxide. Meetings took place every morning and evening to assess the progress.
It took six full days of painstaking work before the site could be declared clean and ready for the next set of workers to come in. Grateful Englehart citizens opened their stores and restaurants early and kept them open late every day just so they could serve these tired workers.
In the end our team had done an amazing job. They had transferred eleven tank cars of acid in rough terrain and poor weather conditions with no injuries and no exposures. The news was right, it could have been a disaster, but thanks in part to the work of our very own HSMAT team it was simply a job well done.
Thanks in acknowledgements section to:
Perry Harvey and Tim Miller for interview