Serious Blast Occurrence:

Nelson Gravel Pit: June 2, 2022

On Thursday June 2, 2022, at 12:30 p.m., Nelson Aggregates set off an enormous blast that rocked our community and sent a caustic cloud of dust sailing over our neighbourhood. We were given approximately 4 hours of notice by Nelson Aggregates. Even with this limited notice, a small group of community members met at a private residence 250 metres south of the Nelson site to observe the blast.  It was an overcast day with a light wind blowing from the north-west. We were able to capture the blast and its subsequent off-site impact via a drone video camera.

In the video, you can observe a cloud of dust that travels straight up in the air, and then is picked up by the prevailing winds.  Within a minute or so, that cloud of dust migrates off Nelson Aggregates’ property and engulfs the area where we were standing.

The cloud of dust was overwhelming, with a sulphur-like smell, causing coughing and burning in our eyes. Though it largely dissipated within 2-1/2 minutes, nevertheless, during its inundation of our neighbourhood, it had a sudden and significant impact.  After it dissipated, it left a noticeable layer of gritty grey dust on the houses, cars and roads near the Nelson property.  It should be noted that in addition to private residences in the path of this substance, there is also a 60-bed long term care facility directly in the cloud’s path, which is home to many elderly folks who often have a greater sensitivity to this type of dust exposure.

Beyond the inconvenience of the dust left behind, it is impossible to be outside enjoying one’s property during an event like this. We are concerned about both the short and long-term health effects of this exposure.  Nelson Aggregates’ website posts a safety data sheet for limestone which states that the “Hazardous Ingredient is Quartz (Crystalline Silica) at an Approximate Concentration Percentage of 10-30%”.  Further the data sheet states; “Chronic exposure to respirable quartz containing limestone/dolomite dust at levels exceeding exposure limits has caused silicosis, a serious and progressive pneumoconiosis which can be disabling and lead to death.  Symptoms appear at any time, even years after exposure has ceased.  Symptoms of silicosis may include shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, coughing, diminished work capacity, diminished chest expansion, reduction of lung volume and right heart enlargement and/or failure.  The only reliable method of detecting silicosis is through a chest X-ray.  Silicosis may aggravate other chronic pulmonary conditions and may increase the risk of pulmonary tuberculosis infection.  Smoking aggravates the effects of silica exposure.” 

In addition, we have also been told by air quality experts that dust emissions from a limestone mining operation like this can also contain ‘fine particulate matter’, that can travel deeply into the respiratory tract. Studies have linked ‘fine particulate matter’ to increased rates of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease.

As you can imagine we were alarmed by this event, but even more disturbing was the discussion with residents near-to-the-quarry who indicated that dust clouds like this from blasting, day-to-day operations, and truck activity are a regular occurrence.  

We obtained an additional video of an equally disturbing quarry blast at the Nelson Aggregates quarry, from May 11, 2022, shot from the same property as the June 2, 2022 video.

On this day the blasting was in the same general area as the blast from June 2, 2022 but the prevailing wind was from the west.  Like the other blast, the dust cloud migrated off-site but in this case, settled over the houses to the east.

CORE Burlington spent some time reviewing the Environmental Protection Act, which characterizes these events as discharges of a “contaminant” (any solid, liquid, gas, odour, heat, sound, vibration, radiation or combination of any of them resulting directly or indirectly from human activities that causes or may cause an adverse effect).  “Adverse effect” is defined to include harm or material discomfort to any person, an adverse effect on the health of any person, and the loss of enjoyment of normal use of property.  Although the health effects are not known at this time, it is reasonable to be concerned about the potential for negative health impacts, given the content of a known carcinogen in the material being blasted. 

The events of June 2 and May 11, 2022 are clearly in violation of the Environmental Protection Act, Part II General Provisions, 14 (1) which states; “Subject to subsection (2) but despite any other provision of this Act or the regulations, a person shall not discharge a contaminant or cause or permit the discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment if the discharge causes or may cause an adverse effect.”  Under 15(1) “Every person who discharges a contaminant or causes or permits the discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment shall forthwith notify the Ministry if the discharge is out of the normal course of events, the discharge causes or is likely to cause an adverse effect and the person is not otherwise required to notify the Ministry under section 92”.

CORE Burlington has written to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MOECP) and asked them to investigate these occurrences of off-site dust emissions by Nelson Aggregates. We have also collected a sample of the dust that settled on cars on June 2, 2022 and advised the Ministry that we can make that sample available to them for analysis. We have also copied various government authorities (City of Burl, Halton Region, NEC and NDMNRF) on CORE Burlington’s letter to the MOECP.

We are obviously anxious about this event and hope for a timely response to our outreach in order to ensure we have no further incidents of these contaminant discharges.