Anyone holding their breath over ever seeing the Kitimat Airshed Assessment can breath easier now with its release on Friday.
The Government of B.C. commissioned for the study of the impacts of industrial developments to the Kitimat area, but since it finished the government had held on to the document claiming it as Crown privilege.
Speaking to reporters Friday Environment Minister Mary Polak said it was always meant to eventually be released publicly.
An overview of the report shows that “The airshed can accommodate industrial growth without significantly affecting the health of residents or the environment,” a government Powerpoint presentation says.
The study focused primarily on Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrgen Dioxide (NO2).
SO2 is the subject of an environmental permit appeal by two Kitimat residents who feel Rio Tinto Alcan’s post-modernization SO2 emissions are too high.
The government study included the possibility of four liquefied natural gas terminals, a proposed oil refinery, gas-turbine powered electricity generating facilities, predicted increased shipping along the Douglas Channel, and future expected increases in road and rail traffic.
“We want to ensure any potential impacts from industrial air emissions are clearly understood before new projects are approved,” said Polak.
As for RTA’s existing permit, the government has no plans to revisit it save for possibilities from the appeal.
“We intend to see RTA operate under its existing permit. The appeal will be what the appeal will be and of course we will look to the results of that if there are any changes that need to be made,” she said. “Our intent at this stage is for RTA to operate under their existing permit requirements.”
Lis Stannus, one of two Kitimat appellants against the RTA permit, is pleased to see the study finally released, but at over 300 pages she said she’d need time to go over the details.
Graphs from the government do show the potential for significant SO2 reductions in the event SO2 scrubbers are used by the smelter.
S02 health risks showed minor possibly increases in respiratory incidents of between .5 and two per cent, and risk directly related to proximity to industrial area.
The study area for the assessment included “near” areas of Kitimat industrial area service centre, Kitimat, and Kitamaat Village.
“Far” areas included Terrace, Gitga’at Old Town, Hartley Bay and the Kitimat-Stikine regional district.
“We’re glad that government’s done the right thing by releasing the report,” said Lis Stannus. “I just hope the B.C. government remembers to put people first here and not industry. Because that’s the job of government, to look after it’s people.”
Rio Tinto Alcan did not have any specific comment on the release of the report but the company did say they’ve received assurances from the ministry of environmental that the report “validates the environment and health findings of Rio Tinto Alcan’s SO2 Technical Assessment Report,” and that the ministry maintains support of the emissions permit.
Among the report’s other findings are conclusions that NO2 environmental impacts are low, and that there are some increased risk of soil impacts from SO2, but no negative impacts to vegetation across all emission scenarios (low to high).
There is potential for acidification of seven lakes, which were not specifically named but are part of the RTA Environmental Effects Monitoring Program.
Lakelse Lake, however, was noted during technical briefings as at low risk of acidification.
For predicted pollutant levels under a high emissions scenario, Kitimat itself is predicated to have an average of 14 Micrograms per Cubic Meter of Air. Comparing to other towns, Castlegar has 10, Trail has 30, and Prince George has six.
NO2 levels for the same are 22 in Kitimat, 12 in Castlegar, and 19 in Prince George. Vancouver tops the list provided at 34, and Burnaby matches Kitimat’s 22.
The report’s conclusions notes that “treatment will be considered for new industrial emissions,” and that environmental monitoring will continue to be monitored.
But, the bottom line, “Potential impacts of NO2 and SO2 emissions are manageable.”