SHERBROOKE, Que. (Canadian OH&S News)
Three workers were killed and 18 were injured after a deadly blast and fire broke out at a marine sciences plant in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.
On the afternoon of Nov. 8, the Neptune Technologies & Bioressources factory in Sherbrooke, east of Montreal, was torn apart by an explosion. Rescue crews spent hours taming the resultant blaze.
Two workers were found dead amongst the rubble. The third, 42-year-old Marc Couture, succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. He had been kept in a medically-induced coma after sustaining burns to 90 per cent of his body.
Eighteen others were taken to the hospital with varying degrees of burns. Hours after the explosion, in what Sherbrooke police called a “miracle,” firefighters discovered a woman in the debris who had taken refuge under her fully-intact desk. She did not suffer any physical injury.
Though Quebec officials said that it is too early to speculate on the cause of the blast, initial reports point to a leak of acetone, a highly flammable and commonly used substance.
“Basically at this point, what we think happened is that there was maybe a leak somewhere along the line and some acetone came out,” said Jacques Nadeau, a spokesperson with the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST), Quebec’s workplace health and safety code regulator.
Before the clean-up and investigation can get under way, inspectors need to eliminate any potential for another blast, he said.
“Because the structure isn’t sound, we cannot send any people in to take the debris out, so we’re looking at safe methods. Our main concern at this point is to make sure there is no flammable liquid in the tanks because there are a couple of things that are still hot inside what’s left of the plant,” Nadeau explained, stressing that “there is no way we’re going to take any risk at this point, and naturally we won’t jeopardize the health and safety of the workers that we would send in.”
Plant was under construction at the time of explosion
The company, which manufactures health products derived from sea life, such as Omega-3 supplements, said that their main concerns right now are finding what caused the incident and to provide care and counselling services to affected workers.
“As soon as we were notified of the situation, we made our way to Sherbrooke. Upon our arrival, we began working with emergency services to understand what caused this incident. We will continue to closely collaborate with them for as long as it is necessary. We want to understand what happened,” Michael Chartrand, Neptune’s chief operating officer said in a statement, and added that they are working alongside the CSST to provide psychological help for staff affected by the devastating inferno and loss of coworkers.
Nadeau confirmed that Laval, Que.-based Neptune was under construction at the time and in the process of expanding, though he could not say whether that had a connection to the explosion.
Within 24 hours, a second deadly blast shook the Bombardier R&D plant in nearby Valcourt. The company announced that one of their employees, a 38-year-old dynamometer operator and father of two, died in the hospital following the explosion on Nov. 9. A night shift security guard remains in intensive care at Quebec City hospital’s burn unit.
Results from both investigations are expected to take at least six months.