Engineers and Rio Tinto BC Works staff work to position the new monitoring station on DoK property in November 2019. (Photo Gerry Leibel)

Rio Tinto provides update on newest air monitoring station adjacent to CN Rail station

Station set up to provide SO2 readings; has been operating since April 27

An air monitoring station which was delayed following a nearly six-year campaign by two local residents fighting for more transparency in the reporting of Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by industry is now up and running, the Kitimat Northern Sentinel has learned.

“SO2 emissions in the Kitimat and Kitamaat residential areas are consistently monitored through a network comprising four air monitoring stations, including a new one that Rio Tinto set up in April at the District of Kitimat’s lot adjacent to the CN Rail Station,” the company said in a statement.

Significant changes to the companies permit and Environmental Effects Monitoring program (EEM) came as a result of a lengthy mediation process between environmentally-conscious Kitimatians Lis Stannus and Emily Toews, later joined by Unifor Local 2301, and BC Works. The result was a Consent Order decided upon by the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB), which conducted the process.

The order stipulates changes to several clauses in Rio Tinto BC Work’s SO2 permit and the EEM program, specifically related to monitoring the impact of sulphur dioxide emissions on human health. This includes aligning the interim Human Health Key Performance Indicator (KPI) contained in the permit with that of the one-hour provincial SO2 level.

READ MORE: Major changes ahead for Kitimat’s airshed

The installation of the companies newest air quality station was also a result of the mediation process.

The fourth monitoring station — originally destined for property owned by the CN Rail Station — was planned to be up and running by October 1 of last year, however this date was subject to an agreement between both CN Rail and BC Works. Such an agreement has not been finalized between the two parties, which is the reason for the station’s current location on District of Kitimat property.

For the current secretary of the Kitimat-Terrace Clean Air Coalition (KTCAC) Pam Vollrath, this news comes as a surprise.

“We have not heard why, or in what way, CN are not cooperating, and secondly, surely any problems would have been settled since last October? Rio Tinto is a big company and this would seem to be a small task to undertake,” she said.

Vollrath also raised concerns about the data collected by the newest station, adding that when she had previously asked about collecting data from the station after it was first set up in November 2019 she was told it would not be valid.

“We were told it was not valid data because the generator running would affect the results,” she said, adding that she was unsure why the station would have been set up if its results were unusable.

BC Works confirmed to the Kitimat Northern Sentinel that the station has been operating consistently since April 27 and that data from the station is valid and accessible through the Province’s online Air Quality Index Map, along with its other three stations in the region.

BC Works, which has previously said it welcomed the outcome of the mediation process, said the health and safety of both its workers and the community as a whole remains its primary concern.

“Close scientific monitoring has revealed that SO2 concentrations have been averaging at or below 1 part per billion (ppb), well under the provincial guideline of 70 ppb for residential areas,” a spokesperson for BC Works told the Kitimat Northern Sentinel.

“Since 2018, we have supported the introduction by the BC government of an SO2 alert system for the local community and we supported the implementation of an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI+) for Kitimat by investing in upgrading air monitoring stations in the region.”

For KTCAC’s part, Vollrath said the group still has questions. She said she feels that a retrofit by the company to its facilities half a decade ago was weakened by a Liberal government which allowed the facility to upgrade without installing SO2 scrubbers during the renovations.

“[This] would have virtually eliminated all SO2 emissions,” she said, adding that the group’s current concern rests with the cumulative effects of pollutants in the local airshed.

“It takes three years of data collecting for this monitor to be considered an official resource of information,” she said. “In our opinion, Rio Tinto is stalling so that it will take longer for it to reach that point.”

She said the group will continue to hold industry accountable and that they continue to have concerns about what they describe as a lack of communication between the two parties.

“It just shows how important it is that industry should be removed from the direct collection of data, as they are too biased to give transparent information.”
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