The Arena Task Force has been tasked with determining whether to replace or repair the aging Memorial and McLaren arenas in Penticton. Though aging in its supports, officials say there’s little risk of Memorial’s ammonia refrigeration plant leaking the deadly gas. (Illustration courtesy City of Penticton)

No cause for alarm in Penticton after arena ammonia leak in Fernie: officials

Operators of SOEC and Memorial Arena, which both run on ammonia, say they follow strict regulations

Though two of Penticton’s hockey arenas are aging, with parts of the structures in need of significant repair or replacement, officials say there is nothing to worry about in the city following a deadly ammonia leak in Fernie Tuesday.

Three people were killed in what is believed to have been an ammonia leak in the refrigeration unit at the small community’s arena, two of whom have been confirmed as city workers and one of whom was an out-of-town contractor.

In light of the fatal incident, South Okanagan Events Centre campus general manager Dean Clarke said officials with the complex follow strict guidelines from WorkSafeBC regarding the use of ammonia refrigeration plants.

Related: Fernie mourns after fatal ammonia leak

“Not only do we have operators on site, but we have managers, directors, even myself, I have an operations background, and I have my refrigeration certificate,” Clarke said. “There’s lots of oversight, follow the regulations.”

The SOEC main building’s sheets have a far newer ammonia plant, while the plant in operation at Memorial Arena has been updated, said City of Penticton facilities manager Bregje Kozak.

“Fortunately our plants are not nearly as old as the buildings,” Kozak said. “Memorial and the new facilities are ammonia plants, but the Memorial one was installed in 1992, so it’s not original to the building by any means.”

Kozak added Spectra Venue Management, which runs the SOEC campus, has a refrigeration contractor who also does work on the ammonia plants at the arenas, who is fully qualified.

Related: Three workers identified as victims of Fernie ammonia leak

“Also those plants are all alarmed,” Kozak said, adding Memorial has been updated to all WorkSafeBC requirements, while SOEC was built compliant with the requirements.

And Clarke said WorkSafeBC is “pretty active” when it comes to checking in on potentially hazardous workplaces.

“We do this for a living, specifically this type of operation,” Clarke added. “Where other municipalities, they have multiple things that they need to take care of, and multiple responsibilities.”

He said Spectra oversees over 100 facilities, and with a fairly small community of arena operators, he is watching the situation in Fernie fairly closely.

Related: Three dead after ammonia leak in Fernie, city says

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up knowing some of these people. The mechanical refrigeration side is a small business, when it comes to the arenas, we’ve sort of seen everybody,” Clarke said.

“So I hope it’s not somebody that we know, and it’s terrible that it’s happened. These are people’s fathers, brothers and sisters, whoever they are. We’re definitely following it.”

He said the tragedy will mean more communication on best practices and workplace safety in the future.

Kozak said Penticton’s McLaren Arena still runs on a Freon refrigeration plant. But by 2020 Freon will not be available for sale, so Kozak said the city will have to look at replacing the plant with an ammonia refrigeration plant.

Related: City of Fernie declares state of local emergency after fatal ammonia leak


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