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Mostly harmless gas leak at 33 Acres microbrewery

November 13, 2015
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All that was missing Friday afternoon behind the 33 Acres microbrewery was a steam whistle (and I don’t mean the Toronto beer).

Friday afternoon 33 Acres, the Mount Pleasant microbrewery-slash-pub-slash-restaurant, had a minor environmental incident in the alley behind its  15 West 8th Avenue location.

At 2:15 p.m, two nearly person-sized stainless steel cylinders could be seen venting three-storey plumes of opaque white gas into the open air, just outside of and flanking the wide-open loading bay entrance leading into the brew works.

Just a case of needing to harmlessly vent, I guess

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The alley is just around the corner from the Go Green Return-it recycling depot and, as I had done hundreds of times before, I was riding through on my way to cash in a bicycle trailer-load of returnable beverage containers.

The billowing jets of whatever spewing into the air were (speaking as a non-beer drinker) the most dramatic thing to come out of 33 Acres since they set up shop two years ago and installed their gleaming (but otherwise quite dull) refinery of tanks and tubing.

Friday I didn’t stop to gawk so much as make way for a vehicle trying to squeeze into a parking space across from the 33 Acres’ loading bay.

The vehicle was a service truck from Praxair Canada, a major supplier of industrial gases. It was while I waited for the truck to park that I gawked.

While I was doing that and taking photos I managed to button-hole one well-dressed fellow who was clearly part of the 33 Acres operation; I asked him what was coming out of the cylinders.

“Fresh air” was his short, curt reply. He clearly had no intention of explaining anything to a nosy binner with a camera.

I had better luck when I turned my attention to the man from Praxair. I watched as he selected tools and stuff from his truck, including a looped length of what looked like clear vinyl tubing. After he had everything in hand, I put the same question to him — what was coming out of the cylinders?

CO2“, was his business-like reply.

Was this something that 33 Acres did regularly? I asked. And by “this” I meant releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide into the air.

“No”, he looked at me and replied seriously. Then he walked across the alley and through the open loading bay so he could do his job.

A hasty panoramic photo in the raw.

A hasty panoramic photo in the raw.

By this time, the cylinder on the east side of the loading bay was still going full blast — billowing out a high-pressure jet of white smoke-like gas — but its western twin was completely spent.

Before I continued on to the recycling depot, I noted that other than the Praxair guy (who was just being professional), no one seemed the least bit concerned about the gas spewing into the air and of the eight-or-so people milling about in the alley around the loading bay, only one was wearing a dust mask.

And, in truth, the carbon dioxide appeared to pose little risk to any of us.

No one was getting anywhere near enough to the cylinders to risk frostbite from the sub-zero pressurized gas and the fact that the canisters were furiously venting and depressurizing meant there was little chance of them rupturing or exploding.

CO2 is heavier than oxygen and displaces it. In enclosed spaces, high concentrations of carbon dioxide can cause asphyxiation but in the open air and standing several metres away, we were unlikely, any of us, to be able to breathe in dangerous concentrations of the stuff.

And CO2 is so far from being flammable that it’s actually used to extinguish fires. it’s also a non-conductor of electricity.

Perhaps the only risk that the CO2 leak posed was to the environment — in its  capacity as a greenhouse gas — and by itself it was probably an insignificant environmental risk at that.

Some 40 minutes later, on my way back through the alley after cashing in, the man from Praxair was wheeling the now empty west side cylinder over to his truck.

The various onlookers were gone. The show was over. It was a gas while it lasted. Click the images to enlarge them.

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