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August 7, 2009
City of Toronto response to the Sunrise Propane explosion
  
On August 10, 2008 there was a fire and explosion at the Sunrise Propane facility at 54 Murray Rd. in North York. This event forced an evacuation of more than 10,000 Torontonians.

The City of Toronto responded immediately to the emergency needs of the area on that first day, and continued to provide the services that residents needed including the clean up of the neighbourhood and the Sunrise site.

"This was a terrible tragedy that upset the lives of thousands of Torontonians and led to the deaths of two people: Sunrise employee Parminder Singh Saini and Toronto District Fire Chief Bob Leek," said Mayor David Miller. "The City took immediate action to protect area residents from danger and did everything possible to help clean up their neighbourhood so life could return to normal."

“The Sunrise emergency tested the City’s response to major emergencies, and staff from the City and its agencies did an excellent job of providing immediate, coordinated services to those people in their time of need in the first few days, and over the weeks that followed,” said City Manager Joseph Pennachetti.

Propane is regulated by the Ontario Government through the Technical Standards and Safety Authority. The site at 54 Murray Rd. is located in an industrial zone, and had an industrial use for more than 60 years, before residential homes were built nearby. Industrial zoning allowed for such uses as propane.

The explosion occurred at 3:50 a.m. and City emergency crews from Fire, EMS and Police responded immediately. Shortly after the City’s Emergency Operations Centre was activated and coordinated the City’s response. More than 10,000 people were evacuated from the 1.6 km area, highway 401 was closed and a no-fly zone established over the area due to the thick smoke. The City established an evacuation centre to provide shelter for those in need at York University, and residents requiring assistance were shuttled to the university by TTC buses. The fire was put out later that day, and late that night the evacuation order was ended and most area residents were able to return to their homes. Twenty-four hours after the explosion residents from 100 area homes were still unable to return for safety reasons: some homes were damaged by the explosion and required work to make them safe, and asbestos was discovered in the area.

Neighbourhood cleanup
Most of the remaining residents were able to return to their homes by Aug. 13. That day the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) issued orders against Sunrise Propane to conduct an environmental clean up of the area with a focus on asbestos debris. On Aug. 15 the company had not yet complied with the order so the City of Toronto, using powers under the Environmental Protection Act, stepped in to clean up the neighbourhood. It hired licensed environmental clean up and disposal crews to clean debris (asbestos) from the area. Air quality tests of the area for asbestos were conducted on an ongoing basis. Samples taken from within 49 homes, were found to be well within Ontario government standards. The cleanup was completed on Aug. 22. During this time City staff from Toronto Building entered the area and issued orders against properties severely impacted by the explosion to bring them to a safe state. City staff worked with these home owners to issue building permits within a few days to conduct the necessary work to repair their homes. All work involving building permits to bring homes to a safe state was completed in 2008.

The City communicated with residents on an ongoing basis which included distributing information flyers, providing regular updates on the City website and sharing information at community meetings.

On August 21, 2008, the MOE issued a further order to Sunrise Propane and the property owners to immediately hire a qualified consultant and develop plans for securing 54 Murray Rd., controlling dust and monitoring air quality. When suitable action wasn’t taken the City stepped in again on August 29 under the Environmental Protection Act to clean up the site. This included the removal of the propane and other tanks containing compressed gasses that might pose a risk to the community.

This cleanup was completed on September 24, and the Ontario Fire Marshal (OFM) turned control of the site over to the property owner. The owner of 54 Murray Rd. terminated its lease with Sunrise Propane and took over the site. Responsibility to comply with the MOE orders rests with the property owner.

Throughout the emergency and area cleanup the City worked with its safety partners including the OFM and Ontario Government (MOE and Ministry of Labour) to help this neighbourhood recover from this emergency as quickly as possible. The cleanup involved 580 properties, including the explosion site. The cost of the cleanup was $1.8 million. The Ontario Government provided the City $900,000 towards those costs. The City intends to recover $900,000 in costs for the area and site cleanup, and will use legal means if necessary to do so.

The TSSA suspended and later permanently revoked the licenses for the two Sunrise Propane locations in Toronto at 54 Murray Rd. (the site of the explosion) and 1201 Dundas St. W.

City actions moving forward
The City of Toronto has a proposed new harmonized zoning bylaw that would, if approved by City Council, establish ‘setbacks.’ New or expanded facilities with potentially harmful chemicals/substances would be required to have setbacks from residential buildings.

The City has proposed neighbourhood enhancements and beautification for the immediate area. This may include adding trees to replace those destroyed by the explosion, enhancements of area parks and streetscape improvements for Murray Rd. The City is engaging area residents about these options.

The City made area residents aware that homes severely impacted by the explosion that were not inhabitable immediately after the explosion could have their property taxes reduced until the home could be inhabited. To date six home owners have successfully secured approval for reduced property taxes during that time frame.

The City of Toronto will conduct media availabilities (one-on-one interviews) on the City’s response to the Sunrise explosion on Friday, Aug. 7 (today) until and 3 p.m. and on Monday, Aug. 11 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. only. Media availabilities are not planned for the weekend.

Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.6 million people. It is the economic engine of Canada and one of the greenest and most creative cities in North America. Toronto has won numerous awards for quality, innovation and efficiency in delivering public services. 2009 marks the 175th anniversary of Toronto's incorporation as a city. Toronto's government is dedicated to prosperity, opportunity and liveability for all its residents.

Media contact:
Patricia Trott, Strategic Communications, City of Toronto 416-392-8937, ptrott@toronto.ca




 

 

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