6 months after the Eastway Tank explosion: What you need to know

·5 min read
Weather-stained remnants of early mourning remained at the roadside sign for Eastway Tank on July 26, 2022. An explosion at the tanker manufacturer in January 2022 killed six employees.  (Guy Quenneville/CBC - image credit)
Weather-stained remnants of early mourning remained at the roadside sign for Eastway Tank on July 26, 2022. An explosion at the tanker manufacturer in January 2022 killed six employees. (Guy Quenneville/CBC - image credit)

New details have emerged on past safety issues and "non-compliances" at Eastway Tank, Pump & Meter more than six months after an explosion killed six employees, marking Ottawa's worst fatal workplace incident in decades.

Inspectors with Transport Canada found a number of administrative, procedural and design-related issues at Eastway Tank — including not fully following engineer-approved drawings while building and certifying tanks — during four inspections from early 2015 to September 2021.

While none of the "non-compliances" was major enough to warrant suspending operations, the inspections add to a more complete picture of the company and its workplace culture in the years and months leading up to the deadly January explosion on Merivale Road.

Fire records obtained by CBC through Ontario's Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act also confirm a history of safety incidents at Eastway Tank, including two previous emergency responses where welding occurred near flammables.

The incidents reported by Transport Canada and Ottawa Fire Services all predate the tragedy on Jan. 13, which killed six employees: Rick Bastien, Etienne Mabiala, Danny Beale, Kayla Ferguson and Russell McLellan died at the scene, while Matt Kearney succumbed to his injuries in hospital the next day.

Submitted photos
Submitted photos

CBC has reached out to Eastway Tank for comment on the latest revelations but has not heard from the company since Jan. 19, when it expressed remorse for the families and called allegations of an unsafe working environment unfounded.

Company addressed Transport Canada concerns

Known for building and servicing fuel-carrying tanker trucks, Eastway Tank has been registered to manufacture and repair dangerous goods containers since 1995.

According to Transport Canada, which is assisting in various ongoing investigations into the January explosion, the company has not faced any fines during that time.

Inspectors did, however, find a number of administrative, procedural and design-related issues at Eastway Tank during the six years leading to January's fatal explosion.

Issues unearthed include:

  • Not including all required information on repair reports.

  • Not meeting specific test and inspection requirements, including pressurizing a tank at too low a pressure.

  • Not following device manufacturer's procedures for calibrating certain testing equipment.

"Eastway addressed the noted non-compliance through discussions with Transport Canada, with updated procedures, and by submission of supporting records," a Transport Canada spokesperson wrote in an email to CBC.

The agency also shared the below table outlining when issues were found at the company.

Transport Canada
Transport Canada

Explosion in fuel tanker in 2008

Three former Eastway Tank employees, including Bastien's son Josh Bastien, have alleged a history of safety lapses at the company prior to the explosion.

The allegations included improper storage of flammable chemicals, "hot" trucks — tankers that still contained fuel or flammable residue being exposed to sparks from welding and other activities — and prior fires.

Ottawa Fire Services previously told CBC local firefighters responded to calls for service to Eastway Tank six times in the last 18 years, but city officials withheld information about the nature of those calls.

According to information obtained through a subsequent access to information request, during one of those six incidents — in August 2008 — a compressed air tank exploded when a welder was working inside a fuel tanker.

In March 2021, firefighters responded to a fire that left a street sweeper truck significantly damaged. The fire department reported that oily rags sparked from cutting or welding activity. Eastway Tank employees put out the fire.

Submitted by Chris Collins
Submitted by Chris Collins
Submitted by Janet Ferguson
Submitted by Janet Ferguson

"Staff [said] a box or rags ignited close to the truck and caught the underside of the truck on fire," according to the fire services incident report.

The fatal January 2022 explosion was the sixth fire department call cited by the city, the records show.

Part of site demolished

A host of agencies continue to investigate the Merivale Road blast, including the Ottawa Police Service, the Office of the Chief Coroner, Ontario's Ministry of Labour and the Office of the Fire Marshal.

The Ministry of Labour, which inspects workplaces for safety issues, has previously said it found issues related to ventilation, welding safety and training, and exposures to hazardous chemical substances in June 2017.

The ministry also revealed it has found a more recent safety issue at Eastway Tank but declined to elaborate, citing the integrity of the current investigation.

The ministry has up to one year after the explosion — or one year after any other issues are uncovered — to lay charges against Eastway Tank under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The Office of the Fire Marshal, which is investigating what caused the blast, shifted its work in late January from the explosion site to its Toronto office where forensic evidence and samples are still undergoing testing, a spokesperson said in early July.

Ontario's Ministry of Environment said some damaged Eastway Tank property was demolished this spring and that site assessments continue to help plan "work necessary to restore the site to pre-existing environmental conditions."

Samples collected from an on-site drinking water well in June showed the water below the Eastway property remained suitable for drinking, the ministry added.

Memorial site at nearby park planned

Just west of the explosion site, plans are underway for a memorial to commemorate the explosion's victims.

In June, Ottawa city councillors approved a motion brought by Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli calling on the city to plant six trees — one for each victim — as well as a commemorative plaque at Merivale Gardens Park.

The installation is expected to happen in mid-November, according to Egli's office.

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