Wheatley residents displaced by gas leak to return home

Emergency crews at the scene of a possible gas leak in Wheatley. (Photo courtesy of Chatham-Kent Fire and Emergency Services via Twitter)

While the source of a toxic gas leak remains unknown, almost 30 Wheatley residents are able to return to their homes following a forced evacuation that lasted more than two weeks.

The Municipality of Chatham-Kent announced on Saturday that it has rescinded the evacuation order for all but two properties; 15 Erie St. N and 9 Talbot St. A total of 27 residents were forced to leave their homes and 12 businesses were evacuated after a hydrogen sulfide gas leak was detected at 15 Erie St. N on June 2.  Four other nearby residents also chose to leave their homes of their own volition. Gas monitoring is expected to continue inside the two properties where the evacuation order remains in place, the municipality said.

A state of emergency was also issued for the town on June 3, but it was ended on Friday.

Chatham-Kent Fire and Emergency Services has been conducting regular gas testing in the affected area every 15 minutes over the past two weeks. The Provincial Hazardous Materials Team and a private sector company have also been monitoring the area for gas readings.

Chatham-Kent Chief Administrative Officer Don Shropshire said the municipality has done everything possible and there is no longer a threat to the area. While hydrogen sulfide gas has not been detected at the site since June 4, Shropshire could not provide residents with a guarantee that the gas would not return.

“We have done everything we believe we can do to try to address the safety issues that were [present] on June 2, but we never found the source of the leak,” he said. “We may never find the source of the leak. But in the absence of a hazard being present for the two weeks that we’ve been doing our monitoring, we cannot see any reason to keep people out of their properties.”

The municipality is continuing to work with experts to locate and neutralize the source. Industry experts have recommended that private property owners should continue to monitor for possible gas leaks after returning to their properties, the municipality said.

“We believe the municipality has done what is recommended or that would be considered a best practice to, not only secure the safety of our citizens and their properties but also to do whatever was reasonable to remediate the threat from the gas leak,” Shropshire said.

Local and provincial officials held a virtual town hall meeting on Saturday morning to allow residents affected by the evacuation to ask any questions they may have prior to returning to their properties. Emergency personnel also accompanied residents and business owners and gas monitoring was also conducted at each property if requested.

As well, a resource centre was opened for residents at the Wheatley Arena on Saturday, to allow them to pick up an information package and resources for their return home.

-With files from Paul Pedro