10 years after the fatal Sunrise Propane blast, anger and concern remain

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10 years after the fatal Sunrise Propane blast, anger and concern remain

Weeds, overgrown grass and a few trees now cover the old Sunrise Propane property, 10 years after a loud, fiery explosion that killed two people and sent residents running in fear in the middle of the night. 

Guiseppa Santoro, 79, remembers it well.

The fatal blast on Aug. 10, 2008 sent thousands of people from Toronto's Downsview neighbourhood fleeing from their homes. Parminder Singh Saini, a Sunrise employee, was killed in the explosion, and firefighter Robert "Bob" Leek, died of a heart attack while responding to the fire. 


Santoro still lives across the street from the large vacant lot where the plant used to sit. And a decade on, she continues to worry about the safety of the lot. 

"We are 80 now, we can't run anymore," Santoro said, thinking back to their frantic escape 10 years ago after the loud boom and huge fireball. "My son, he's worried."

'A problem just waiting to happen'

Santoro says a fence dividing the empty property from the street came down months ago. She doesn't know what's in the ground after all that propane leaking and imagines the worst if someone were to light a match on the vacant lot. 

"It's disgusting there," she said, sitting out on her front porch with her husband.

But a decade on, there are concerns about more than the property. Safety regulations to prevent a similar disaster are still not adequate, say some.

Today, across Ontario "little bungalows are directly across the street from... major propane facilities," according to Maria Augimeri, the local city councillor, who also represented the area 10 years ago. 

"It's a problem just waiting to happen." 

Augimeri one of those calling for tighter controls on propane sites and for greater oversight by the province of the industry regulator, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA). 

'The risk may very well exist right now' 

In a statement to CBC News, the TSSA wrote that following the blast, it addressed all recommendations from the provincial government's Propane Safety Review Panel. In total, the panel released 40 different recommendations ranging from worker safety training to the design of propane facilities. The TSSA says it also audited all companies similar to Sunrise Propane in the months following the tragedy.

Six thousand residents affected by the explosion went on to win a $23-million dollar class-action lawsuit against Sunrise Propane. A judge also ordered the company to pay a $5.3 million fine for violations of the Ontario Health and Safety Act and the Environmental Protection Act.

 

Sunrise Propane is no longer in operation and it's unclear what will be done with the vacant lot on Murray Road where the propane plant once sat. Landowners Roy and Mark Teskey did not respond to a request for comment.

But 10 years later, Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario Safety League, is skeptical about whether Ontarians are any better protected. 

"The risk may very well exist right now, today, in other communities or other areas in Toronto," he said in a phone interview with CBC News.

'It's in shambles'

He said fire officials have raised concerns that they aren't always aware where large propane tanks are located, whether they're in a city or rural area.

For her part, Santoro can't help but wonder if what happened 10 years ago could happen again.

She and her husband blame Coun. Augimeri for not forcing a change here.

The councillor says there's little she can do with a privately-owned piece of property, but agrees the site should be in better shape and envisions it being a park space and a mix of homes and businesses.

"It's in shambles. It's terrible."

Correction : An earlier version of this story referred to the Technical Standards and Safety Authority as the Transportation Standards and Safety Authority.(Aug 10, 2018 8:25 AM)