Piloting a new way to monitor air quality

A member of the Sarnia refinery Environment, Health and Safety team exchanges tubes in the air sampling monitor.

Recently, the Sarnia refinery has been participating in discussions with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) and local stakeholders to explore new ways to gain a better understanding of local air quality and minimize benzene emissions. 

In February, the Sarnia refinery installed 12 monitoring stations around the perimeter of the site. These monitoring stations are part of a collaborative project being led by the MOECC to measure airborne concentrations of benzene, not only from the Sarnia refinery, but also from specified sampling sites at five other industrial sites in the area

The monitors are protected from the elements and debris by plastic “hoods”.  The monitors are periodically switched out for testing in an accredited lab. 

The monitor locations were chosen based on specific criteria and considered feedback from both the MOECC and Aamjiwnaang First Nation, which has also installed several monitoring sites throughout its community.

“The locations had to be evenly spaced, be on or as close as possible to the refinery’s property line, have minimal obstructions and be easy to access for sample collection,” explains refinery environmental advisor, Scott Odolphy.

The air samples are collected by tubes that are switched out every two weeks.  Once removed, the tubes are sampled at an accredited lab.  This is important to ensure the data collected is sound. “The goal of this collaborative air monitoring project is to evaluate the air monitoring technology being used to ensure it will meet the needs of the project,” says Scott.

Perimeter monitoring is included in the MOECC’s Benzene Technical Standard, which came into effect in July 2016. The standard outlines specific maintenance and operating practices to minimize benzene emissions. The Sarnia refinery has already taken several steps to implement these practices, including implementing an increased leak detection and repair program and conducting maintenance on a number of storage tanks as a way of reducing source benzene emissions.

The data we gather will help us understand what effect our plant's emissions and other industrial sites participating in the project may be having on ambient air quality. We will be sharing this data with stakeholders involved in the collaborative project, but also understand there are others who may be interested.

“That is why we are working with the MOECC, Sarnia Lambton Environmental Association and a committee of local stakeholders to come up with a way to share future monitoring results in a format that is timely and is easy to understand,” says Scott.

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