If Metro Vancouver wants to build a new garbage incinerator it claims will be state-of-the-art it should first outfit the existing one with the best possible pollution scrubbing technology.
That’s the position the Fraser Valley Regional District is taking in opposing the renewal of the operating certificate for Metro’s current Waste-To-Energy Facility in south Burnaby.
The FVRD argues the proposed permit doesn’t go far enough in lowering the limit on allowed emissions toward international best-practices levels already identified by the provincial government.
FVRD board vice-chair Patricia Ross said Metro has failed to improve emission controls as fast as it could have at the existing incinerator.
“They could have upgraded it to the very best technology but they didn’t because they thought it was too expensive,” Ross said. “They could have and they should have. How are we to believe them when they say they will operate the next one at the best of standards?”
The decision on renewing the permit will be made by the provincial environment ministry.
Soil and vegetation tests for pollutants linked to the incinerator were only conducted for two years after it opened 25 years ago.
The FVRD wants those tests reinstated to check contaminant levels it says could concentrate in crops, fish, livestock and people, noting much food is grown just downwind in Richmond and Delta.
“It is not acceptable to assume that no impact has been had on soil, vegetation, water, food products or public health without rigorous monitoring and evaluation to confirm,” the FVRD paper says. “The long-term impacts of the Burnaby incinerator, in operation since 1988, can and must now be evaluated in a detailed manner.”
Ross also said Metro’s disclosed emissions are misleading because there are a variety of pollutants – including antimony, selenium and magnesium – that are not tested for because there’s no requirement to do so.
“There’s a lot of junk coming out that they’re even telling you about – they’re not required to,” she said. “What they’re reporting they’re emitting and what they’re actually emitting are two very different things.”
The FVRD’s response paper filed with the province lists 48 requested amendments to the proposed permit’s requirements, including calls for bolstered testing on a range of front and improved disclosure.
Ross said the province’s reaction will offer an early test of how seriously the government will take the air quality concerns of Fraser Valley residents in making an ultimate decision on whether Metro Vancouver can build a new waste-to-energy plant.
Metro is currently in the midst of selecting potential sites for a new plant, which could be operational by 2018.
A new plant would burn 370,000 tonnes of garbage per year, in addition to the 280,000 tonnes already burned in Burnaby.
Ross was also critical of the “under the radar” permit renewal process.
Neither the FVRD nor affected local municipalities were notified, she said, and FVRD staff scrambled to respond by a Dec. 21 deadline after learning of the 30-day comment period in early December.
Metro Vancouver board chair Greg Moore said the province has full control of the process.
“We have continually upgraded the Burnaby facility and have plans for continuous improvements,” Moore said.
The latest upgrade underway will reduce the plant’s nitrogen oxide emissions from 0.9 per cent of the region’s total to 0.4 per cent in 2014, he said.
The plant’s emissions of lead, chromium, mercury and cadmium are each 0.1 per cent of the airshed’s total, Moore said, while emissions of dioxins, furans and fine particulate are “so low they are almost undetectable” at 0.001 per cent of the airshed total.
The incinerator, which generates electricity to power 16,000 homes, is in line for another $20 million in further environmental upgrades over the next decade, he added.
“This is on top of significant investments already made at the facility over many years.”