On the afternoon of September 30th 2019, the demolition of a decades-old structure from former steelmaker Hamilton Specialty Bar caused a massive black cloud of industrial-grade dust and debris to engulf surrounding homes and businesses and spread across several neighbourhoods, its plumes seen from many kilometres away.
The dust cloud, which some described as post-apocalyptic, lingered for more than an hour in some areas, with the wind carrying both the dust and debris a considerable distance from the demolition site and depositing it on buildings, cars, homes, gardens, outdoor furniture and children’s play equipment.
The demolition, permitted by the City of Hamilton in full accordance with the current demolition permitting process, was the controlled collapse of a tower structure whose upper portion contained dust accumulated over a hundred years of steelmaking which, we later learned, had not been properly cleaned prior to demolition.
The company responsible for the demolition, Delsan AIM, had met all the requirements of the permit, including working with an engineer to ensure safety measures were in place and environmental impacts had been addressed.
The affected community was shocked and scared by the incident, with no advance warning of the demolition, no knowledge of its immediate health implications, and very little guidance on how to deal with the aftermath. Neighbours were worried about possible health impacts on their children, elderly and immuno-compromised folks, those with respiratory illnesses and other vulnerable residents.
At the Ward 3 office, we heard from parents with toddlers playing outside who had to rush them indoors after they and their toys were covered in fallen debris; we heard from a crossing guard leading schoolchildren across a nearby intersection who found herself and the kids enveloped in a black cloud; and we heard from a grandmother whose property backs onto the demo site who wondered if she needed to destroy her backyard food garden for fear the vegetables she grew would harm her grandchildren.
The findings of toxicological testing [from only swipe samples (*not air samples)] conducted by the MECP and later the City of Hamilton took more than six weeks to be released, and did little to quell fears from community members. There was little reassurance felt by residents derived from claims that the impact of the incident was “unlikely” to have long-term health effects.
Ward 3 residents and I believe if a more thorough and rigorous process for vetting and approving demolition permits were established, one that links Hamilton Building Department, Public Health and the province’s MECP, potentially hazardous results such as what took place in September 2019 could be avoided.
If City officials were better informed about the risks associated with upcoming industrial demolitions, they could enact better safeguards for human and environmental health and alert the public ahead of scheduled demolitions about potential outcomes.
We believe communities deserve to feel safe and protected. Ward 3 residents, especially those living in and around the City’s industrial sector who are already burdened with chronic exposure to airborne emissions, need every effort to be made to prevent further degradation of the air quality in the neighbourhoods they live, work and play in.
As the City of Hamilton faces an ever-changing industrial landscape, with surely more industrial demolitions in our future, the spectre of an even more catastrophic event should compel us to take action now to prevent that from happening.
We have heard through many conversations with staff that there is a desire to learn from this incident and do better, and we believe this motion (article edit note: the motion passed at Planning Committee on February 2nd) is a big step in that direction.
Link to motion