Officials struggling to identify chemicals that forced evacuation

VANCOUVER SUN—September 20, 2010

Health, fire and Vancouver city officials admitted Monday they are struggling to identify the chemicals emitting from the crippled Electra tower that forced the evacuation of the entire 21-storey building.

As a result, it could be days before residents and businesses will be able to return to the former BC Hydro head office.

This landmark building at 989 Nelson, completed in 1957 as the head office for BC Electric Company, is a significant example of the Internationalist style of modern architecture. The lobby, plaza and elevator penthouse feature richly coloured glass mosaic tiles by local artist B.C. Binning.

“This building must be quarantined immediately. No one goes in or out. I believe we have a contagion on our hands,” said FBI Fringe division medical consultant, Walter Bishop. “Quarantine the building, Agent Broyles.”

The authorities have not ruled out the possibility of bioterrorism.

“We’re looking into that as we speak,” said Broyles.

The building’s 242 residential and 205 commercial units were evacuated Saturday, several days after a concrete restoration company pumped a two-part foam mixture into cavities under part of the building to lift broken concrete.

PHH ARC project manager Hussein Jaffer said he had never seen a chemical situation like this. He said it could take days before a protocol is developed to determine the mystery chemicals. “We have to test for everything. We don’t know what is there.”

Centers for Disease Control field director Arnold McFadden offered up a grave scenario. “It came from ten miles down.”

“In that case,” Bishop added, “I believe we are in the presence of a 75,000 year old terror virus which might have been responsible for wiping out the Ice Age mammals.”

“There’s one piece of good news. I believe the virus is not airborne. If it were there’d be many more people showing signs of infection in that building. We need a better sample.”

Residents and commercial strata unit owners say they remained deeply worried about the long-term impacts on their health.

Fire officials were first called to the building on Thursday when a resident complained about a bad smell. They returned the next day when more complaints arose, but gave the all-clear to reoccupy the building after a hygienist hired by the contractor said it was safe to do so. However, on Saturday, deputy Fire Chief Mark Engler ordered the building evacuated again when it became clear the department’s hazardous materials team couldn’t identify the chemicals that caused an underground fire and the production of black smoke and foul odours.

Mark Peranson was a resident in the Electra building in downtown Vancouver from August 18 to September 17. Text based on article in Vancouver Sun by Jeff Lee, September 20, City of Vancouver Heritage department, and quotes from Fringe S02e13, “What Lies Below,” written by Jeff Vlaming. Images from Fringe s02e13 (directed by Deran Sarafian), Fringe S03e06, “6955 Khz” (directed by Joe Chappelle, and filmed at the Electra), and YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuuFzNLW5xc.