An east-end Montreal school board says that all of the students and staff are safe and sound after officials were forced to call in emergency crews to respond to a mysterious odour at an elementary school. The sulphur-like odour was reportedly prompted by an incident at a nearby Suncor refinery.
Officials at the elementary school on the eastern tip of Montreal Island, école Saint-Octave, said that firefighters and paramedics responded rapidly after about 20 students and one teacher reported feeling sick.
"All students are safe," the Pointe-de-l'île school board said in a statement posted on its Facebook page on Tuesday afternoon. "Emergency crews have just left the school."
The school board noted that it was told by local utility and public safety officials that the odour was not originating from inside the school, but likely from one of the refineries in the area. The school board also said in its statement that there were no signs carbon monoxide poisoning.
At least two media outlets, the CBC and La Presse, reported that the source of the problem was an incident at the nearby Suncor refinery.
Urgence-Environnement, a division of the Quebec Environment Department, told Radio-Canada in an email that the odour was coming from a recent shipment of crude oil in a tank at the Suncor facility.
Suncor Energy spokesman Michael Lawrence was unable to confirm whether the company was responsible for the leak.
“Early this afternoon we responded to reports of odour issues in the area of our Montreal refinery, in conjunction with reports of children at a nearby school reporting odours," he told National Observer.
“We immediately initiated our response plan and attempted to determine the source of the odour. As part of this, we are monitoring air quality with the permanent sensors we have in place. We also deployed operators with portable air monitoring sensors.”
“Our initial readings indicate that we are operating well within regulatory limits, but regardless, whether or not we’re the source of the odour, we’re obviously very concerned with the situation and taking it seriously. Finally, we notified local authorities and are working with the Montreal fire department to monitor air quality.”
Suncor has recently noted on its website that it's determined to minimize odours from its operations and be a "good neighbour" to Montreal by exploring new technologies.
"Odours from our refinery are not toxic or harmful according to health standards," the company said in a note posted on its site, dated in November 2018. "Odour perceptions can vary from one person to another. Yet, at Suncor, we take every measure possible to reduce the nuisances caused to our neighbours."
The company has also recently experienced what it described as "operational issues" at its Edmonton refinery a few days earlier. It had warned neighbours in that area that they might "notice increased flaring, noise and odour levels."
"We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your patience," Suncor said in a tweet posted on Jan. 17, 2019.
Being a good neighbour in Montreal: Suncor's Montreal refinery recently teamed up with PR'eautech, an odour management firm, to neutralize odours both inside and outside our property: https://t.co/IDzIDSgyZJ pic.twitter.com/iripP84tNr— Suncor (@Suncor) January 9, 2019
The Suncor Edmonton refinery is currently experiencing operational issues and as a result you may notice increased flaring, noise and odour levels. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause and thank you for your patience. #yeg— Suncor (@Suncor) January 17, 2019
The incident comes a few months after an investigation by Global News, the Toronto Star and National Observer, found that pollution from Canadian refineries was much higher than it was from comparable facilities in the United States.
At the time, an industry spokesman acknowledged that Canadian companies "haven't done so well."