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Garbage burning plan 'dangerous' to health, says UBC expert

Vancouver Observer series on incineration

Expect more coughing, smog and respiratory illness if regional garbage incineration plan goes forward, says distinguished UBC scientist

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Air pollution expected to worsen with incineration in Vancouver region
Pollution over Metro Vancouver - photo by Susan Gittins

Pollution alerts – heavy smog – respiratory threats. Those aren’t Vancouver’s problems, but those of Los Angeles or Asia’s mega cities. Right?

“People very often say to me, ‘the air here is so clear [in Vancouver].  Look at Beijing – look at New Delhi.’ 

“Well, if we don’t care – that’s what we will [become],” said UBC air pollution expert Douw Steyn on Thursday.

The South African-born atmospheric sciences professor has long been highly critical of Metro Vancouver plans to burn half a million tonnes of garbage per year as a solution to the region’s growth woes.  And he hasn’t minced words.

“A dangerous thing” and “scandalously stupid” have been part of Steyn’s public comments about building incineration in the Lower Fraser Valley's air shed.  Of concern, he said, are the health problems from increasing ground-level ozone pollution.

“This pollutant has severe health effects on young and old, but particularly on heavily exercising people and those with respiratory illnesses,” said Steyn Thursday.

Douw Steyn on air pollution in Vancouver area

UBC professor Douw Steyn standing next to a campus recycling bin.

He has argued that other healthier and more environmentally responsible solutions are available, including “aggressive” approaches to recycling, urban density, and taxes on large vehicles, such as Hummers and Range Rovers. 

The Metro Vancouver regional authority, which controls the garbage flow in the region, is now preparing to accept bids from several corporations seeking to cash-in on the big business of burning trash that cannot otherwise be easily recycled, composted, reused or diverted. 

The issue is real: one million new residents are expected to make Metro Vancouver home by 2040, ballooning the population to 3.4 million.  And more people, means plenty more trash.

To deal with that growing mountain of garbage, Metro Vancouver is now seeking a home for a mega waste-to-energy incinerator.  Proposed locations include Squamish Nation / Port Melon, Delta, Vancouver and Nanaimo.  More potential sites will be unveiled in April.

According to Steyn, burning garbage emits a toxic brew of volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen that would only add to the many sources of such pollution that are hard to control: our vehicles, factories, and marine vessels. 

“I say that the incineration source is an eminently controllable one, and one we don’t need to do.  My argument is, the Lower Fraser Valley is actually a poor place to emit pollutants.”

The valley’s mountains traps pollution, especially on hot sunny, summer days, he said.

Lower Fraser Valley airshed

Tipping Point

On August 17, 2012, motorists listening on their radios heard that air quality was so bad, that a health advisory was being issued.  Maple Ridge, Langley, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, Surrey and Burnaby were put on smog alert.

Despite decades of air quality improvements in the region, new research shows average levels of ozone pollution are starting to level or increase slightly, according to Metro Vancouver.

(6) Comments

Zero Waste Canada February 21st 2014 | 6:18 PM

It is appalling to think that a regional district like Metro Vancouver who claim to be "a Zero Waste Community" want to build garbage incinerators. There is NO incineration in authentic Zero Waste so what type of Zero Waste is Metro Vancouver trying to convince taxpayers and voters it it supports?

The supporters of burning garbage have trotted out some scientist from the Green Party in BC, Andrew Weaver, a so called "expert" who supports burning garbage so it can be "regulated". 

When "experts" have differing opinions, which one should we listen to??

eco-WIN Nanaimo February 21st 2014 | 6:18 PM

No matter where an incinerator is built, it's contaminants will spread throughout the Fraser Valley. What a waste of recyclable resources, this plan must be rethought and $500 million budgeted for Zero Waste recycling instead.

Harold Steves February 21st 2014 | 7:19 PM

By the time Metro Vancouver has built the incinerator it wijj be time to tear it down.  Both respiratory illnesses and food prices will be up. Burning increased coal. oil  and LNG from Canada in Asia will increase climate change and severe weather. Pollutants arriving from Asia already contaminate our air by "slightly under 5% to 24%" today. The incinerator will add to the changing climate and the toxic soup that engulfs us. At the same, it is already estimated that low level ozone collecting towards the east end  our tightly enclosed Fraser Valley airshed is reducing food production by 10%. With drought and desertification occuring worldwide we cannot afford any further crop reduction by adding even more ozone.

 

AirLover February 24th 2014 | 12:12 PM

An important fact has been omitted from the "Sources of smog-forming pollution" graphic at the bottom of this article. The rectangle in the bottom right marked "<1%" should refer to the emissions from solid waste management (the existing burnaby incinerator). See Page 4 of http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/air/Documents/Caring_for_the_Air-MV2013.pdf

A new incinerator would have much better controls. Compared to all the other sources (like cars and trucks, solvents, diesel engines), it would a VERY small contributor to smog.

Bruce Voigt February 25th 2014 | 10:10 AM
In what we call dark matter, a toxic brew of volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen are on their way to other worlds. Some stop along the way in cloud makeup and return to earth as rain. Forces cork screwing their way to each of earths poles, exit the planet as an immature air cell. These cells are in evolution and must first evolve or mutate to other gasses (OZONE) etc. Ozone at this point is still an immature (force) and will not be detected by infrared. This will be incorrectly interpreted by people that are not knowledgeable in this new technology as to be a hole in the ozone! Ground-level ozone pollution along with these others are returning to earth from what has been named chemtrails. High altitude aviation-- http://www.vancouverobserver.com/news/port-moody-councillor-questions-me...
David Wilson February 25th 2014 | 9:21 PM

You run Plasco out of town (which would have destroyed almost all of the toxics) and now you want to just plain burn the garbage?  Incredible...