VANOC to provide HAZ MAT training, equipment 

Sliding Centre to house large volume of hazardous chemical

By Alison Taylor

Olympic organizers will fund Whistler firefighters with hazardous material training and equipment in case of an ammonia leak at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The centre will be home to one of the largest storehouses of ammonia in North America. Roughly 150,000 pounds of the hazardous material, used to cool the Olympic bobsled/luge track, will be delivered to the resort next fall.

In high concentrations the chemical will attack the eyes, nose, lining of the mouth, armpits and groin areas during exposure.

“Our biggest concern from a fire perspective is a leak,” said assistant fire chief Rob Whitton, adding that he believes the safeguards are in place to mitigate the possibility of a leak.

To date there has never been an ammonia leak at any other bobsled track around the world.

The local fire department is not currently equipped to manage a hazardous material spill. They have HAZ MAT awareness training only.

“We don’t have the full encapsulating suits,” said Whitton. “We do not have the training for operations level HAZ MAT so in our current position we would be required to wait until an industry response team could make themselves available.”

The closest team, he added, is an hour and half away in the Lower Mainland.

However, due to the high level of concern around a potential leak the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Games has decided to upgrade both the training and the equipment of local firefighters. VANOC will fund the initial costs and the Whistler Legacies Society will cover the long-term operations costs.

“We’ll be providing equipment,” said Jan Jansen, VANOC’s director of the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The sliding centre is located on Blackcomb Mountain, just above Base 2. A makeshift set of trailers there is the command centre for the $100 million track, designed to be one of the fastest and steepest of the 15 comparable tracks around the world.

Like the majority of tracks around the world, the Whistler track will have liquid ammonia running through pipes underneath the concrete to keep the ice surface cold.

Ammonia is a common refrigerant, used in ice rinks, food processing plants and bobsled/luge tracks.

“The efficiency of ammonia far surpasses any other refrigerant that’s on the market,” said David Baranowski, one of the top engineers on site. “And it’s commercially available and not very expensive.”

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