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

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