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Here's what caused the Burnaby refinery's January stench

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It's been one month since an incident at Burnaby’s Parkland refinery sent a foul odour throughout parts of Metro Vancouver, prompting a public safety advisory and an air quality bulletin.

On Tuesday, facility staff held an information session at a Burnaby hotel in an attempt to counter concerns from the public, describing what happened as an industrial incident.

The incident unfolded on Jan. 21 – as an attempt to re-start the refinery’s fluid catalytic converter had to be abandoned. It was during that shutdown attempt that a plume and odour emerged.

“In British Columbia, we have very stringent air quality standards, and the air quality monitors in the Lower Mainland -- at no time during the event – were any of the air quality standards exceeded,” the refinery’s plant manager Alex Coles told CTV News in an interview Tuesday.

At this information session staff often outnumbered residents, but still, those who came had questions.

“We didn’t know what was going on,” said Michele Joel, a woman who lives near the refinery and attended the information session. “Everyone was concerned. Black smoke was coming out of the refinery. We just didn’t know what was happening. First of all, we want to be informed earlier. At least some kind of information.”

For some people who live in the area, the information session seemed to ease concerns.

“I’m not a suspicious person as far as that’s concerned,” said Steve Dunbar, who lives in the neighbourhood, when asked whether he worried about the health implications of the incident. “I question things, but…I don’t think they’d B.S. us on something that was a major health concern.”

Regardless, Burnaby’s mayor feels the refinery could have done a better job of letting people know what was going on.

“It just doesn’t sit well when there’s no immediate communication,” Mayor Mike Hurley told CTV News in an interview. “It appears – I would like it to be much more transparent than waiting and waiting to let the public know.”

The refinery is conducting its own investigation and has said it will share its findings publicly.

“We pride ourselves on being a good neighbour to the community and tonight’s event is really to allow our neighbours to come ask the questions that they have, so that we can provide the answers,” Coles said.

Last month, Burnaby city council passed a motion asking the province to conduct an independent investigation into what happened.

The city also wants the refinery to compensate it to the tune of $30,000 to cover the costs of the emergency response.

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