Kitimat’s fire chief Trent Bossence says the contractor responsible for the thick, choking smoke that inundated Kitimat and Kitamaat Village over the Labour Day weekend has been given strict requirements that need to be followed for future burning of waste.
Bossence said he called for a meeting on Wednesday, September 4, with LNG Canada’s main contractor JFJV after the fire department received 22 complaints from irate residents on Saturday, August 31, complaining of difficulty breathing, sore throats and watering eyes.
“The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the impact that these burns have on the public as well as the environment with a focus on how to proceed in the future,” said Bossence. “It was made very clear that the circumstances that took place over the long weekend were not acceptable.”
The Northern Sentinel spoke to a number of residents in the district that were affected by the smoke over the Labour Day weekend.
“It was horrible – my asthma acted up and I couldn’t breathe,” said Amie Dianne.
Maria Towse said the smoke was so bad she called the fire department on Saturday morning to complain. “My daughter who was working in the mall with me noticed her breathing was worse than normal,” said Towse.
Ben R. Bolton said he could smell the smoke from Kitamaat Village.
“I could feel it in my lungs and I needed inhalers a few times. Luckily we have good fans in our house,” said Bolton.
Jarrid Franklin said the smoke affected the Kitimat Fishing Derby on Saturday.
“We tried to enjoy a nice weekend fishing but ended up smoking trees,” he added.
In a Crowdsignal web poll conducted by the Northern Sentinel last week, an overwhelming 82 per cent of respondents said they had not received advance notice that burning would take place in Kitimat over the Labour Day weekend.
Bossence said during last week’s meeting, JFJV agreed to provide the fire department with a plan to prevent the Labour Day weekend situation from happening again.
“The idea is to work together in respect to when burning should take place and to come to an agreement on what are considered to be favourable conditions to burn in,” said Bossence, adding that supporting the health and well-being of the public and the environment in the process of removing waste is a priority for both JFJV and the District of Kitimat.
Any large-scale open burning of waste requires a permit which is issued by the Kitimat Fire Department. Bossence said in order for the permit to be issued there are a number of conditions that must be met.
He stressed that at as soon as any of the conditions in the permit are breached, the permit may be cancelled by him or another member of the fire department’s management team designated to do so.
He said the most important requirement set down in the permit is that the environmental venting index must be favourable to support open burning. In the event the venting index isn’t favourable, burning is not approved to start or must be terminated immediately.
“In this specific case, JFJV is claiming they had a favourable venting index on Friday – monitored by their own custom venting index – when the piles were lit but lost the venting on Saturday and Sunday.”
He said the DoK doesn’t monitor the venting index as this is expected to be done by the permit holder.
“It is unclear why the burning continued through Saturday with a not-so-favourable venting index, and it was only till Sunday that the burn piles were extinguished,” added Bossence.
By Sunday the fire department had received a large number of complaints and JFJV was contacted and instructed to extinguish the fire.
“It should be noted that at this point JFJV had already started the process of extinguishment,” said Bossence.
The fire department will contact permit holders after receiving either one complaint from Kitimat General Hospital, or three complaints from the general public.
JFJV spokesperson Rebecca Boys confirmed that the company had received a call from the fire department on Sunday at noon requesting that workers stop feeding the fire.
“We had already initiated the cease feeding process about 30 minutes prior to the call from the fire hall. We confirmed with DoK at 12:43 p.m. that JFJV had ceased the feeding process,” said Boys.
She said the order to stop burning was only the second order issued to the company since it had started burning waste at the LNG Canada site.
She said JFJV contractors have had numerous days of burning – in the order of 45 to 60 — with no adverse impact on the community.
“We follow a specific procedure to determine when burning is permitted, and on the occasion when the smoke is an issue for the community, we have ceased burning. We are currently chipping wood waste in conjunction with burning activities,” said Boys, adding that only 25 per cent of the total waste still needs to be disposed of.
She said the company only sets waste piles alight when venting is good, or fair, with northerly winds and good venting at Northwest Regional airport outside Terrace.
“We monitor a test pile before we light additional piles. Once lit, we continually monitor smoke and weather, including constant trips to strategic viewpoints,” said Boys. “If burning starts to impact the community, we stop feeding the burn pile. In the recent incident, we had already ceased feeding new material prior to being asked to do so by the DoK.”
She said the company consults with “a local open burning subject matter expert” and hires a meteorologist to produce daily customized venting forecast specific to the area.
“We also copy the Ministry of Environment on this forecast. In addition, we are in very close communication with DoK during all burning, as well as we notify the Fire Department prior to lighting piles. “
Both the B.C. Ministry of Environment and the BC Oil and Gas Commission referred questions relating to the incident back to the DoK as the burn permit was issued locally within the municipal boundaries.
However, ministry spokesperson Andrew Patrick encouraged residents to report problems with smoke through the RAPP line at 1-877-952-7277 or #7277 on the TELUS Mobility Network.
To report problems with smoke to the Kitimat Fire Department, use their non-emergency line on 250-632-8940.
What is the Ventilation Index?
The provincial Ministry of Environment website states that the burning of woody debris outdoors is only permitted when the forecast Ventilation Index is sufficient to disperse the smoke. Before debris can be ignited, the Ventilation Index must be predicted to be both Good (55 – 100) in the afternoon as well as Fair or Good (34 – 100) the following afternoon.
The Ventilation Index ventilation categories are Poor (0 – 33), Fair (34 – 54) and Good (55 – 100).
On Saturday, August 31, the Venting Index at 7 a.m. in Terrace was Poor (15) with a wind speed of 15km/h and Fair at 4 p.m. (38) with a wind speed of 3km/h.
On Sunday, September 1, the Venting Index at Terrace at 7 a.m. was Poor (14) with a wind speed of 2km/h, climbing to Good (99) at 4 p.m. with a wind speed of 20km/h.
What is the Air Quality Objective?
The highest level of smoke pollution over the weekend recorded by air quality monitors dotted around the district exceeded the provincial environment ministry’s guidelines, or Air Quality Objective (AQO), on Sunday.
The provincial environment ministry’s AQO for PM2.5 over a 24-hour period is 25 micrograms per cubic metre (25 µg/m3). Note, this is an objective and not a statutory level – it can’t be enforced.
The air quality monitor situated at Riverlodge Rec Centre reported the highest level measured on Sunday at 2 p.m. at 26.8 µg/m3, which is 1.8. µg/m3 above the PM2.5 AQO.
What is PM2.5 and why are those levels so important
According to Wikimedia, particulate matters (PM) are particles found in the air, including dust and smoke.
PM2.5 particles are air pollutants with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, which is about 3 per cent of the diameter of a human hair.
PM2.5 are referred to as fine particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size, they can lodge deeply into the lungs.
The provincial environment ministry publishes PM2.5 maps on its website hourly.
“PM2.5 is one of the most important outdoor air pollutants in B.C. from a human health perspective,” reads the advisory on the ministry’s website.
A report published by Health Canada in 1998 states that PM2.5 is “most clearly associated with adverse health effects in a number of epidemiological studies, and has been shown to have a more robust association with mortality in most studies than other fine particle metrics (such as sulphate or acidity).”
A report published by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME), Canada-wide Standards for Particulate Matter and Ozone: 2012 final report defines a PM2.5 24-hour level of 30 μg/m3 as ideal, 5 μg/m3 less than B.C.’s more stringent AQO.
How bad IS PM2.5?
On its website, the CCME emphasizes the dangers posed by PM2.5, which can negatively impact the heart and lungs, and can lead to health issues like asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, and heart attacks.
“Exposure to PM2.5 is also linked to increased emergency room visits and hospitalization due to respiratory and cardiovascular problems, as well as increased risk of premature mortality. Children and those with pre-existing cardiovascular and respiratory disease have greater sensitivity to effects.”
The CCME also makes reference to PM2.5’s environmental effects, which can vary depending on the chemical make-up of the pollution.
“PM can cause changes to soil and water chemistry. This can adversely impact organisms and vegetation. PM2.5 can stain and damage stone and other materials, including culturally important objects such as statues and monuments.
“PM2.5 also contributes to reduced visibility, which affects cities, airports, and wilderness areas, and can negatively impact tourism and the economy.”