Worker injured in industrial explosion and fire in St. Catharines, Ont., has died

St. Catharines firefighters work to extinguish a fire after responding to an explosion at Ssonix Products LTD., a hazardous waste management company in St. Catharines, Ont., on Thursday. (Tara Walton/Reuters - image credit)
St. Catharines firefighters work to extinguish a fire after responding to an explosion at Ssonix Products LTD., a hazardous waste management company in St. Catharines, Ont., on Thursday. (Tara Walton/Reuters - image credit)

A man who was critically injured in a series of explosions and a fire at a hazardous waste facility in St. Catharines, Ont., on Thursday has died, Niagara Regional Police said Friday.

Insp. Rob Laplante said during a briefing that the man was in his 30s and a St. Catharines resident. Police aren't releasing his identity as the next-of-kin notification process is ongoing.

Police said emergency crews were called to the Ssonix Products facility at 20 Keefer Rd. just after 6:30 a.m. ET. The company's website said its line of business includes producing gasoline, kerosene, distillate fuel oils, residual fuel oils and lubricants.

Crews found a fire that had spread to a neighbouring industrial building as well.

St. Catharines fire department Chief Dave Upper later announced that a man who was working at the hazardous waste facility, and the only person there at the time of the explosion, was injured and taken to hospital.

The man was initially taken to a local hospital, but later transferred to the burn unit at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Tara Walton/Reuters
Tara Walton/Reuters

A second person was also taken to hospital, Karen Lutz-Graul, deputy chief of operations with Niagara Emergency Medical Services, told CBC Hamilton on Thursday. That individual did not suffer a physical injury.

On Friday, Laplante said road closures in the area of the plant will continue for some time.

"We thank the public for their patience during this time. Niagara Regional Police will continue to work and support all investigative agencies involved."

Origin, cause of fire still not known

Jeff Tebby, operations manager for the Office of the Fire Marshal Ontario, said an investigative team was at the scene on Friday.

"We are beginning the process of remediating the site to make it safe for our team to get onto the property to conduct the origin and cause investigation," he said.

"That investigation has not actually begun yet, so we are not able to comment on the origin, cause or circumstances of the incident."

About 50 residents had to leave their homes after the explosion and were housed at the St. Catharines Kiwanis Aquatic Centre.

Idil Mussa/CBC
Idil Mussa/CBC

Around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, residents were given the all-clear to return home.

One evacuee, Bruno Caciagli, praised the first responders and the city for their handling of the incident — particularly St. Catharines Fire Services and Niagara Regional Police.

"I heard the explosion about 6:35 and it was less than three minutes when I heard the sirens from both the fire department and the police," Caciagli told CBC Hamilton on Friday.

"So, the response was fantastic," he said.

Caciagli also said "the organization that they had at [the St. Catharines Kiwanis Aquatic Centre] where we assembled, it was fantastic over there."

"There were even people who took care of the pets. They brought food for dogs, cats and even syringes for insulin because I learned dogs can be diabetic just like human beings."

Gary Wheeler, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, said it is continuing its assessment.

"The ministry is at the scene today to assess the extent of the impacts, including collecting samples," Wheeler wrote in an email to CBC News on Friday.

"The ministry will ensure the owner takes all necessary steps to clean up the impacts" to the environment.

According to Wheeler, prior to the fire, there were no complaints or ongoing environmental compliance issues at Ssonix.

During the blaze, the ministry assisted the fire department by conducting air quality monitoring of the area to ensure the area under evacuation and shelter-in-place orders were sufficient, he said.

The ministry also ensured the owner took responsibility for retaining a qualified consultant to prevent migration of contaminated douse water off site and to implement a cleanup plan.

"The ministry worked with local municipal representatives to identify potential impacted sewers and drains so that the cleanup contractor focused efforts in the right areas to protect the environment," Wheeler said.