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Strong odour lingers over Metro Vancouver after issue at Burnaby, B.C., refinery

The Parkland refinery in Burnaby, B.C., is pictured on Jan. 21. A strong odour permeated Metro Vancouver due to an issue with a processing unit at the refinery, Parkland told CBC in a statement. (Yvette Brend/CBC - image credit)
The Parkland refinery in Burnaby, B.C., is pictured on Jan. 21. A strong odour permeated Metro Vancouver due to an issue with a processing unit at the refinery, Parkland told CBC in a statement. (Yvette Brend/CBC - image credit)

A strong burning smell reported across Metro Vancouver Sunday morning was connected to an issue at the Parkland refinery in north Burnaby.

Many residents woke up to an intense odour early Sunday, which was concentrated in East Vancouver and the adjoining area of north Burnaby.

Parkland wrote in a statement to CBC that there was an issue with a processing unit at its refinery around 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, which led to a "temporary increase in odour, smoke and a flame from the unit's chimney stack."

It said the company's team responded alongside the Burnaby Fire Department and RCMP, and there were no injuries reported.

"Neighbours in the community may notice temporarily elevated smoke, odours and particulate matter," the spokesperson wrote. "We continue to work with relevant authorities, and our refinery team is working to resolve this temporary issue."

Burnaby firefighters were present near Parkland refinery on Sunday morning.
Burnaby firefighters were present near Parkland refinery on Sunday morning.

Burnaby firefighters were present near Parkland refinery on Sunday morning. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

A CBC News reporter outside the refinery described the smell as "acrid burning, like plastic or chemical."

A statement from the Burnaby Fire Department Sunday afternoon said it responded to an "industrial incident" within the refinery fence line around 7:30 a.m. PT Sunday.

"Burnaby Fire crews established an operational perimeter between the facility and the adjacent neighbourhood," read the statement. "Using standard operational pre-plans, Burnaby Fire assessed and confirmed no immediate concerns related to the safety of citizens."

The Burnaby Fire Department issued an advisory Sunday warning of the smell, with the Metro Vancouver Regional District issuing an air quality bulletin for the northwest and northeast portions of the region around 1 p.m. PT.

A spokesperson for Metro Vancouver said that Parkland held a valid air quality permit with the regional district, and that officers were assessing compliance with that permit as part of an ongoing process.

The regional district received over 100 complaints from Vancouver and Burnaby due to the smell, according to the spokesperson.

Information too late, residents say

Some residents said information from officials about the smell came too late in the day.

"What are citizens supposed to do when there is a noxious-smelling, chemical-smelling fume and you have to spend hours trying to dig out the information," said East Vancouver resident Melina Auerbach.

Harri de Wijze, Auerbach's partner, said he searched for information on where the smell was coming from for hours.

"We want to know if our kids are OK, if we can go outside, walk the dog, or not," said de Wijze.

A spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy initially told CBC the smell came from a fire at the refinery, but later clarified there was no fire and the smoke was a result of a problem with restarting a processing unit.

"Provincial environmental emergency response officers are monitoring the situation and working with Parkland to monitor potential air quality impacts," said the spokesperson.

Burnaby fire crews say they established a perimeter between the refinery and adjacent neighbourhoods, but there were no immediate safety concerns for residents on Sunday.
Burnaby fire crews say they established a perimeter between the refinery and adjacent neighbourhoods, but there were no immediate safety concerns for residents on Sunday.

Burnaby fire crews say they established a perimeter between the refinery and adjacent neighbourhoods, but there were no immediate safety concerns for residents on Sunday. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

In a Friday statement, the refinery had advised Burnaby residents that they could notice "a higher than usual flare and potential intermittent noise" over the next several days as they worked to start up their operations.

"The refinery is committed to safe, reliable, and efficient operations while minimizing potential impacts to our neighbours," reads the statement. "All safety and environmental protocols are being followed, and all required regulators have been notified."

A City of Vancouver spokesperson said in a statement that if anyone was outdoors Sunday and feeling impacted by the odour, they should consider moving indoors to a community centre or library.