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GUEST COLUMN: Response to Shell release was a mess

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Al Weiss

On April 27 I took my daughter and her friend for a drive to visit a friend on Stag Island. On route I explained some things to her friend about the ‘Valley;’ the former Dow plant and its history, and how the river’s designation has improved from one of the worst to better. We talked about the surrounding neighbours.

As we crossed the river I pointed south and explained about the ‘retired’ coal-fired plant and north to another that was decommissioned and imploded last year.

The girls said, hopefully, “Don’t worry, in five years there will be no need for these plants because of solar and wind farms.” My daughter’s friend is an environmental science student at Carleton University; my daughter is studying Journalism. We walked the island and went for dinner in Corunna.

At 4 p.m. a neighbor of Shell Canada’s called in after smelling an odour (How long had it been festering?) We were outside, picking up a friend south of Shell. There were comments about the smell. We dismissed it as normal.

Shell Spokesperson Kristina Zimmer officially stated that at 5 p.m. elevated benzene level readings were detected south of the plant. It wasn’t until 6 p.m. that sirens began wailing in Corunna for a Shelter-In-Place (apparently not all of them work!) How long did they last?

We were in a restaurant at Hill Street and St. Clair Parkway from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and heard nothing. The door opened frequently for smokers, diners entering, all on their cell phones, but nobody said anything.

When we left the restaurant at 6:30 p.m. there were people outside and an OPP cruiser, with the officer talking through his window to people, moving from group to group. It was strange; then we looked north and saw a cruiser and cones blocking our path home on the River Road.

Radio Newsflash!

Odour from Shell! Traffic control in Corunna; a Shelter-In-Place issued as a precautionary measure.

Seriously! We immediately phoned the restaurant and told them of the Shelter-In-Place. I turned off the outside air return and went home, outraged. The owner shut down the HVAC system at 6:30 p.m.

What does that mean, ‘precautionary?’ No problems, or Shell isn’t sure?

Our dinner in Corunna was excellent. The island and river were beautiful. The municipalities involved need to discuss improving their communications. I hope everyone at the plant was safely inside till the all-clear sounded at 8 p.m.

At home I checked a message: “From MYCNN – Emergency in Corunna … go indoors, close windows and doors and turn off ventilation systems.”

Thanks. Would have been a great message to tell people in Corunna, maybe on the loudspeaker of the police cruiser.

The Carleton students now have a first-person narrative to submit when they return to class in September. We were all lucky.

Al Weiss is a retired teacher in Sarnia

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