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Quebec health products plant explosion kills three

09 November 2012

Three people have been killed and 19 injured by an explosion and fire at a health products plant in Quebec, Canada, on November 8. The plant is owned by Neptune Technologies & Bioressources, which produces health products such as Omega-3 derived from marine life. A second blast on the same day hit the Bombardier Recreational Products complex in Valcourt, Quebec, leaving two people with serious burns.

The blast at the Neptune plant in Sherbrooke could be heard for miles around and started a fire that produced plumes of thick, black smoke. There was at least one large blast followed by a series of smaller ones.

Firefighters found one survivor in the rubble. "She was hiding in the debris and she was hiding because she was scared," said Rene Dubreuil, a police spokesman. Another police spokesman described the scene as "chaotic", with injured people inside and outside the plant.

Of the 19 people taken to hospital, two were put in intensive care and four were transferred to a burns unit in nearby Montreal. Others were released or kept under observation.

Initial concerns about toxic smoke were due to the plant's reserves of 15,000 litres of acetone, which is flammable and can cause irritation if ingested. Environment Quebec said it was actually more concerned about the possibility of soil or water contamination than of the risk associated with breathing the air near the blast site.

It is unclear what caused the explosion. An investigation is under way, according to the Globe and Mail.

The Laval-based company announced plans last year to expand its Sherbrooke facility. The federal government supported the project with an interest-free loan and the Quebec government provided a grant, according to an announcement made earlier this year by then-premier Jean Charest.

The company called in a psychiatric support team to help traumatised workers. It promised to co-operate with police during the investigation.

“We’re in terrible shock over what’s happened,” said Michel Chartrand, chief of operations for the company.

A second blast on the same day hit the Bombardier Recreational Products complex in Valcourt, Quebec, leaving two people with serious burns.

Quebec provincial police say the blast occurred about 20 minutes after midnight and appeared to come from a lab in the facility's research centre.

They say the victims are a 38-year-old employee and a 54-year-old security guard. Both were taken to a hospital in Quebec City and remain in a medically induced coma.

The province's workplace health and safety commission is investigating.

The BRP facility produces Ski-Doo snowmobiles, Sea-Doo jet skis and Can-Am all-terrain vehicles. It is located about 40 kilometres west of Sherbrooke, where the Neptune Technologies plant is situated.

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