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REPORTING · 22nd November 2014
Walter McFarlane
Greg Knox, the executive director of the Skeena Wild Conservation Study came before Kitimat Council on Monday, November 3rd to present on the topic of the Air Shed Study. He introduced himself to Council and thanked them for having him.

“We have taken an interest in potential air pollution impacts because we did more investigation into several of the industrial developments currently underway and proposed for the area, we became concerned about some of the environmental and health impacts,” said Knox.

“All of these industrial developments release sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and ground level ozone. Currently, Rio Tinto Alcan, in their smelter upgrade, will be decreasing some of its pollutants, most notably, fluoride, which is great, but there will be a large increase in sulphur dioxide from the new facility,” said Knox.

He stated they have received a permit from the Ministry of Environment to increase their sulphur dioxide output from27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day, double what they are currently emitting.

For LNG, Knox reflected on the government’s promise to produce the cleanest LNG in the world, a promise which he stated they are waffling on. The three proposed facilities for Kitimat would burn 60% of the natural gas in the entire province. It would also be the equivalent of the lower mainland. This would result in nitrogen oxide pollution.

Knox explained the Kitimat Valley was a confined valley, meaning the pollution would be trapped low in the valley and impact the community. The major problems would be acid rain. This would result in turning local streams and lakes acidic. The waterways are already close to becoming acidic. This would have impact on fish, notably rainbow trout and steelhead.

Knox also told Council it make trees more susceptible to diseases, acidify soil removing nutrients.

He explained the air shed study, under all the development scenarios predicted the acidification of 21 lakes with most of those being between Kitimat and Terrace.

Knox explained the health effects to people next, adding that he is not a health expert, but he is using the information from health experts from Northern Health, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada.

“Nitrogen Oxides, the biggest impact is on people’s breathing, especially folks with Asthma and emphysema, breathing difficulties have the most impact. In particular, children, especially those with Asthma,” said Knox. He explained particulate matter is also detrimental to human health in many ways.

He told Council there were several studies about the pollution which will be created by industries in Kitimat. Rio Tinto Alcan came to the conclusion there will be some increase in visits to the hospital for people with respiratory illness.

Knox explained Rio Tinto Alcan came to the conclusion that the risks would be acceptable. However, he pointed out Alcan is the proponent and it was strange they were making judgement on what the acceptable levels would be.

Knox stated there were limitations in the models which were used, concerns raised by Northern Health and there was a request for Rio Tinto Alcan to put scrubbers in their facilities.

Knox explained the studies showed that : “If you did everything you could, you’d essentially reduce the pollution by 1/3 as much as if you did nothing, the standard industry scenario.”

“They basically concluded that the air shed here can accommodate large scale industrial development, but only if they take action and deal with the pollution issues from the industries that are proposed here,” said Knox. “They also concluded that there appears to be no best scenario across health metrics.”

Knox pointed out the concluded there would be no change in the impacts on human health as the scenarios changed. Knox explained the reason for this was because they set thresholds. If the scenario did not reach a threshold, it would not change the colour coding. In addition, Knox stated the study also claimed that SO2 and NO have a threshold below which there are no health effects to humans.

“The research says: you have more pollution, you have more impacts,” said Knox. “As you have more pollution, the impacts go up.”

He stated the study did not study other pollution. In addition, they did not look at studies where the two pollutants were combined in the proposed concentrations. Finally, it was based on one year of data. There were a number of other problems with the studies.

Knox stated it was someone else who disagreed with the study who raised the statement: “The question should be: What is best for the people, not how much can we possibly stand?”

Knox also pointed out the Provincial Government is coming out with new rules for LNG to make them the cleanest LNG which sets targets and goals for them to be clean, but also allows them to buy carbon credits or investing in the technology to get them to the point elsewhere.

“If there is no incentive to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions in a plant, it puts in questions, the greenhouse gas emissions are linked to the air pollutants which come out of these facilities, will there be incentives for them to decrease the other pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, etc.,” said Knox.

He said there is an appeal before the appeal board. It was brought up last April. There are two people in Kitimat. It is based around Rio Tinto Alcan’s permit for the Sulfur Dioxide emissions. The hearings will take place in Victoria in December, in Kitimat in January and back to Victoria for closing arguments.

They are asking the environmental appeal board to livestream the event so people in Northern BC can tune in and watch.

Knox is asking for the government to push for the cleanest scenario, to the use the best pollution reduction technology so the people do not pay the cost for industries coming to their community.

He stated for Rio Tinto Alcan, they are asking for a scrubber. He added a part of the permit means they have to build the plant so scrubbers can be added at a later date. Knox said the scrubber is not cheap but would be a benefit to Kitimat. The scrubber is used in 20 aluminium smelters around the world. The by-product of the scrubber causes the sulphur to become a salt which is found naturally in seawater.

They are also asking for wold class pollution control technology.

Councillor Mario Feldhoff wanted to hear more from the Ministry of Environment. He stated his recollection was the Ministry of Environment did look at the cumulative impact of the industries and the SO2 component was attributed to the smelter and the valley can handle this and people should not be concerned.

Knox stated they did say the large scale industrial development can occur safely if managed properly. People have to interpret what this means. He believes it means going with the cleanest scenario possible.

Councillor Phil Germuth clarified that Knox was not trying to stop the project, he was looking at a way to implement the scrubbers over time. They did not want to affect anyone’s job. Germuth said he was concerned about also stifling other industrial developments in the case the air shed could not handle any more.

Germuth also wanted to see the government provide an incentive to have RTA put the scrubbers in.

Councillor Mary Murphy stated she worked with wet scrubbers at Eurocan. She questioned whether it can be dumped into the ocean as they were treating it and slowly releasing it. She was going to do some research.

Knox stated he met with experts. The expert did not know of any impacts where they were being implemented and they would be safe. The sulfur interacts with the seawater and turns to sulphate which is natural in high concentrations in sea water. The only concern is the water needs to cool before it can be released into the ocean.

There were no further questions.
Excellent presentation which raises even more questions..
Comment by Larry Walker on 22nd November 2014
One right off the what happens to the ocean (Douglas Channel) if all the criteria is met and the salt is injected into the water over time. Will it disperse equally throughout the water or will it form a huge ball of high concentrate and in turn "roll over" periodically thus killing all the fish in contact with it. Just a thought....