KINGSTON – City council is calling on the province to tighten the rules about transporting hazardous materials on Highway 401 during severe winter weather.
Council passed a motion on Tuesday night asking the ministries of transportation and environment to “consider additional safety measures, including prohibition” for vehicles carrying hazardous materials when the weather turns nasty.
The motion followed a 30-vehicle crash on Highway 401 last month during which 8,000 litres of fluorosilicic acid was spilled from a tractor trailer.
The driver of the transport was killed and 28 people were transported to hospital, many for treatment for exposure to the chemical. Many of the injured were police, firefighters and paramedics.
“We are employers and as employers we are bound to be responsible for the health and safety of our employees and those include firefighters, they include police and, they indirectly, because we do most of the funding, include the paramedics who responded to this accident,” said Williamsville Coun. Jim Neill, who put forward the motion. “I think it is critical that we send a strong, unanimous motion that we are indeed a responsible employer concerned about the health and safety of our first responders.”
Fluorosilicic acid, listed as a dangerous good under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, was said by Leeds County firefighters to produce “a highly toxic, highly corrosive and poisonous solution which is harmful to skin, lungs and eyes.”
Neill’s original motion called for a complete prohibition on the transportation of hazardous materials during blizzards.
Sydenham Coun. Peter Stroud, who works as a nurse at Kingston General Hospital, seconded the motion and said it would make the highway safer when the weather is at its worst.
“In the middle of a blizzard, it really seems to many people to have been a preventable death and preventable mass casualties,” he said of the collision, which prompted KGH to put in place Code Orange protocol in anticipation of the arrival of mass casualties.
Neill described the idea of protecting first responders and the public as a “motherhood issue,” but said he was surprised when others on council expressed concern about it.
Mayor Bryan Paterson, while saying he supported the intent of the motion, put forward an amendment to change the call for a prohibition to instead ask the province to “consider additional safety measures.”
Paterson said asking for a prohibition from the outset would eliminate the opportunity for a discussion with the province about other options.
Kings Town Coun. Rob Hutchison suggested the motion keep a reference to possibly prohibiting the transportation of hazardous materials during severe weather and said it would still serve as a starting point for a discussion.
“The key word here is ask the Ministry of Transportation,” Hutchison said. “We’re just asking them to have a conversation.”
The amendment to Neill’s motion was accepted but even the watered down version did not sit well with Lakeside Coun. Laura Turner, the sole councillor to vote against the motion, because she said it was an overstep of council authority and not a municipal issue.
“I’m just not comfortable with this. It’s out of our jurisdiction,” Turner said. “We are all of a sudden becoming weathermen, we are all of a sudden becoming the Ministry of Transportation.”
The motion is to be forwarded to other Ontario municipalities for endorsement, as well as to provincial and federal leaders.
Source (with video): The Kingston Whig-Standard