Sicamous Fire Chief Brett Ogino maps where different emergency responders will be in the event of an ammonia leak during a training exercise conducted in January at the Sicamous and District Recreation Centre. (Lachlan Labere/Eagle Valley News)

Sicamous arena treating for ammonia

Testing ordered of public facilities following fatal leak at Fernie arena.

Sicamous arena staff are taking steps to remove residual ammonia leaked within the facility’s refrigeration system in 2016.

In November 2017, Technical Safety BC (formerly the BC Safety Authority) issued a safety order to owners/operators of public facilities with ammonia refrigeration plants. The order required initial and ongoing testing for the presence of ammonia in secondary coolant (brine solution) systems.

The order was issued subsequent to the Oct. 17, 2017 ammonia leak at the Fernie Memorial Arena that left three people dead and prompted the city to declare a state of emergency, forcing the evacuation of 55 neighbouring homes and businesses.

Following the order and subsequent testing, ammonia was found in the Sicamous and District Recreation Centre arena’s refrigeration system.

Columbia Shuswap Regional District community services/operations management team leader Ryan Nitchie explained the detected ammonia, approximately 122 parts per million, is residual, still in the system after a leak discovered in August 2016 was repaired and the system’s faulty chiller subsequently replaced in 2017.

“It was detected… just shortly after the plant started up because they get it ready for winter hockey school and stuff,” said Nitchie. “They fired the system up and quickly realized there was a leak so they shut it down again, fixed the leak and that basically got them through the ice season for 2016/17, and then it was replaced as soon as the ice season was over in the spring of 2017.”

Nitchie emphasized the leak was contained within the system, that no ammonia leaked into the air, only into the brine lines.

“That causes contamination within the brine line,” said Nitchie. “Ideally you want it at zero parts per million. And there was some sort of detection system within the refrigeration unit that detected there was ammonia in there. So that’s how they learned there was a leak happening.”

Nitchie said the Sicamous arena’s refrigeration system is currently being treated with a product that will remove the residual ammonia from the brine. A related independent testing report submitted to Technical Safety BC notes the ammonia is slowly decreasing.

Nitchie believes the same chiller was installed in Enderby’s arena, which is undergoing a similar mitigation process.

In January, Sicamous staff and local emergency response organizations gathered at the rec centre for an ammonia leak training exercise.


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