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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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Worse, global warming is expected to double the number of air-health-alert days from three per year to seven, later this century according to new research.

The effects won’t be even.  Steyn, says the changing atmospheric chemistry will mean the harmful plumes will increasingly float east to Chilliwack and Hope.

Residents there who are susceptible to air quality issues can expect increased shortness of breath, inflammation, even death among elderly or those with pre-existing lung conditions, says Steyn.

Criticism not wanted?

Speaking out about these issues has cost Steyn funding for his air quality research.

In 2010, Metro Vancouver’s air-quality division pulled its funding from Steyn’s pollution study, saying his objectivity was questioned after he described the region’s incineration plans as “scandalously stupid.”

“They didn’t like the fact that I was opposing incineration,” said Steyn. 

“They wanted an excuse to get back at me – very vindictive.”

Steyn, who has studied the Fraser Valley’s air quality for 30 years, has continued to speak out. He lectures internationally, and his “6 Reasons Not to Incinerate” presentation is available on Youtube.

Diversion key

Standing beside UBC’s myriad of recycling boxes, Steyn says we should all ask ourselves if something really is garbage before we toss it into a garbage bin.

In his household of three, he said, he has reduced his trash to just one weekly shopping bag. Mattresses can be recycled, paint cans returned, and metals taken to metal dealers.

His biggest beef though is spent batteries.

“Sorry for going on about batteries, but that is one of the single biggest issues we’ve got to deal with,” said Steyn.

Tossed batteries, he said, put heavy metals in our waste stream, and if burnt by incineration, expose us to toxic pollution.

Workplaces can also do more to divert garbage and encourage car pooling.  UBC, which sees 40,000 commuters per day, recently gave all students access to transit passes for just $35 per month.  This dramatically increased public transport, said Steyn.

If incinerator must be built

Begrudgingly though, if an incinerator has to be built, build it far away from people, he added.  

He suggested somewhere in the Fraser Uplands, about 100km off the highway between 100 Mile House to Quesnel.

He also cautioned Metro Vancouver against any long-term garbage-burning contracts.

“If he have to build an incinerator in the short term, I would be absolutely certain not to get ourselves in locked into an installation that’s going to be with us for 35 years and we have to feed the beast.” 

Sources of smog-forming pollution

Where smog-forming emissions come from - Metro Vancouver

Graphic from Metro Vancouver.

With files from Mike Chisholm


(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...