Students from Auguston Traditional Elementary were kept inside Tuesday and the public is warned to stay away from the Kinder Morgan oil terminal in Abbotsford due to strong oil smell from a spill on its storage site.
The odour was first reported to Abbotsford police and the fire service as early as 4:30 a.m., and it continued to linger in the Straiton Bowl area of Sumas Mountain throughout the day.
The pungent smell came from a spill or "release" at the Kinder Morgan Sumas terminal, which houses several large storage tanks in the rural area, a little over a kilometre from the Auguston subdivision and school.
In an e-mail release, Kinder Morgan's external affairs manager Lexa Hobenshield said at about 6:50 a.m., "oil was discovered in a tank containment area at our Sumas Terminal."
The spill was fully contained on company property, and there was no fire or injuries, she wrote.
"Foam will be applied to control any odours and the product is being vacuumed up. Air monitoring is being performed to ensure public and employee safety. Appropriate regulatory agencies have been notified, along with local authorities and residents," her e-mail said.
However, the oil transport company didn't have information on how much or what type of oil was spilled, or if there was any danger to the immediate environment. The incident is still under investigation.
Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said he began receiving calls of a strong oil or gas odour in the area at 4:30 a.m., and calls have continued all day.
Police and fire crews went to the Auguston area at daybreak to find a source of the smell, which turned out to be from the Kinder Morgan tank farm, or storage facility.
Kinder Morgan officials told MacDonald that based on air quality tests done at the site, the biggest issue was the odour and that there was no concern for public safety, he said.
"They were using foam and bringing in some kind of equipment to mitigate the odour," said MacDonald. He posted the information on Facebook and Twitter just after 11 a.m.
School administrators decided early in the day to keep students inside, said Abbotsford School District spokesman, Dave Stephen.
"We're keeping them inside, and that's a result of the very strong smell outside, as a result of the oil incident," he said. The principal also decided to limit outdoor air intake to reduce any odours inside the school, he said.
"Other than that, it's a normal day at the school."
Sumas Mountain resident and local environmentalist John Vissers, who noticed the strong crude oil smell at about 6:20 a.m., said many locals are familiar with the odour. Sometimes oil fumes from activities at the tank farm linger in the Straiton bowl area, which included many rural homes and the Auguston neighbourhood.
"The smell was really strong. I thought they were flushing the tanks," he said.
Vissers said this event may make local Abbotsford residents nervous about Kinder Morgan's plans to increase the capacity of its pipeline, especially since there was a significant spill at the tank farm in 2005 that forced some people from their homes temporarily and threatened local streams.
"They're still doing monitoring and remediation - you can see it from the (Sumas Mountain) road," he said.
"Even the best technology we have, and they assured us they have it, oil spills can still happen. These spills seem to be inevitable - we have to accept that," Vissers said.
Serena Duckett, who lives on Auguston Parkway East, said her husband noticed the smell when he left for work at 9 a.m.
"He said it smelled like gas and asked me to check the barbeque," said Duckett.
She has a teenaged daughter at home and is uneasy about potential health, air quality or environmental issues associated with the spill.
"[The fumes] aren't something you want to breathe into your lungs or respiratory system," she said Tuesday. "I don't know how much is getting into the ground or if it's seeping into the water or sewer or all of the above."
"I'm concerned knowing it's just behind my house," she added.
"I think we should have been told [about the spill]."
- with a file from Rochelle Baker