Three contractors exposed to hydrogen sulphide at Shell

Three contract workers at Shell Canada are being assessed in hospital after being exposed to hydrogen sulphide.

Around 8:15 this morning, contractors involved in a turnaround at the Sarnia plant were cleaning some equipment according to Shell spokesperson Kristina Zimmer. “Part of that cleaning process created a reaction,” she says adding “we’re still working to understand what happened.”

“Nothing leaked, it wasn’t a pipeline; it was a cleaning reaction.”

The workers were assessed at Shell’s on-site medical center and then were taken to Bluewater Health where Zimmer says they are in stable condition. Zimmer wasn’t aware of the nature of the medical problem but she believe the workers will not be in hospital overnight.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says exposure to hydrogen sulfide in small doses can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. People with asthma may have a hard time breathing. People briefly exposed to higher concentrations can pass out and in some cases can die. In most cases, people appear to recover without any other effects. In some cases, people may suffer from permanent or long-term effects such as headaches, poor attention span and memory, the ATSDR says.

Shell also sent out air monitoring equipment to north of the site after receiving calls about “rotten egg” odours from Aamjiwnaang First Nation. “We did do air monitoring around the perimeter and at the Aamjiwnaang Day Care,” says Zimmer. “The odour could be smelled but it was not high enough to be picked up by the air monitoring equipment.”

Immediately after the incident, non-emergency personnel were sent home although Zimmer says production continued normally in the areas which were not affected by the turn around.

Shell has begun an internal investigation into the incident. The Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Environment are also investigating.

– Heather Wright