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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Burnaby incinerator and Fraser Valley, round two

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Metro Vancouver's WTE, better known as the Burnaby incinerator

Metro Vancouver’s WTE, better known as the Burnaby incinerator

Seems I touched a nerve.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a letter to the Vancouver Sun, saying that it’s a bit much to blame the Burnaby incinerator for air pollution in the valley when off-road diesel are not regulated (as opposed to in Metro Vancouver.)

A few days later the paper published my letter (here).  The letter elicited a response from Sharon Gaetz, the mayor of Chilliwack, also published in the Sun (here).  In it, she says:

Metro Vancouver is the only regional district in B.C. that can regulate air discharges. Meaning the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) does not have jurisdiction to implement its own off-road diesel program; responsibility falls with the Ministry of Environment (MOE). While thankful for efforts to reduce diesel emissions, unfortunately we suspect older equipment is entering the FVRD, polluting our fragile airshed. Unable to directly safeguard this ourselves, we will work with the MOE on future options.

She also details other measures the FVRD has undertaken to improve air quality, all of which are commendable.  But since there is a shared airshed between the FVRD and Metro (and a watershed, for that matter), I have to ask: would it not make more sense to merge the two districts for effective action?

It certainly is true that Abbotsford and Chilliwack bear the brunt of air pollution generated in the Metro area; in summer, the sea breeze pushes photochemical smog (aka brown haze) up the valley.  But to claim, as Abbotsford councillor Patricia Ross did (here), that the incinerator plays a large role in polluting the valley is a bit rich.  With respect to NOx, one of the pollutants associated with brown haze, the facility emits only 0.85% of total NOx emitted in the valley, while vehicles (car, off-road, etc) produce about 70%. As for small particles (PM2.5), the incinerator produces only 0.04% of the total (see here).

A little while ago I posted an entry explaining why I thought Ross was out of line (here).  I mentioned that it would be great to have access to real-time data from the incinerator, since continuous stack monitoring is done for the main pollutants like NOx, opacity, carbon monoxide, and a few others.  Maybe Metro will eventually enable this.  But meanwhile, their website contains a wealth of information on the emissions of the incinerator, and, yes, I would live downwind from it without worry (actually, I did, in the 90s).  Dioxins, heavy metals, and other pollutants of concern are barely ever detectable, and are much lower than required by regulation; check the website here or here.

As for elevated cadmium levels in flyash that made the news last year (see here, for instance), that is a serious matter.  This heavy metal is highly toxic and could potentially have contaminated the groundwater surrounding the Cache Creek landfill, where the ash is disposed.  But that is precisely the point: the cadmium is in the waste already, and would have been just as likely to contaminate groundwater if the garbage had been simply landfilled instead of incinerated; incineration concentrates the heavy metals in the ash and provides a method for disposing of it safely (by improving ash stabilization, which Metro is working on).  It is still a concern, but it’s better than the black hole of a landfill.

And an incinerator does recover the energy content of the waste.  Sure, it has a big, visible smokestack, and of  course that is a symbol of pollution.  But look at the actual emission numbers, please, before pointing fingers. 

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Written by enviropaul

January 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm

One Response

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  1. […] air pollution and greenhouse gases are much worse than if it went to an incinerator; see here and here, for instance. But we didn’t talk much about that; instead, we talked about recycling. My bad: I […]


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