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New Report Says Kitimat Airshed Can “Accommodate” Increased Industrial Pollutants

The Kitimat airshed can “accommodate” increased industrial growth and pollution according to a new Kitimat Airshed Study released Friday.

The study, commissioned by British Columbia last year to assess the impact of industrial pollutants on the Kitimat airshed, was released one month after lawyers representing Kitimat locals asked the Environmental Appeal Board to force the province to make the report public.

The province previously claimed cabinet privilege and refused to release the report to two women, Emily Toews and Elisabeth Stannus, who are fighting to overturn a 2013 ruling to allow increased sulphur dioxide emissions from Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter ‘modernization project’ in Kitimat.

The government-funded report concludes the Kitimat airshed, if properly managed, can safely accommodate industrial expansion, including the expanded aluminum smelter expected to increase levels of sulphur and nitrogen oxide in the area.

The study took into account Rio Tinto Alcan’s existing smelter, the smelter’s modernization project, four proposed liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities, one proposed oil refinery, a potential BC Hydro gas powered turbine facility and increased emissions from tanker traffic.

Environment Minister Mary Polak, attending a press conference in Vancouver today, said “the study tells us that with proper management there is significant capacity in the Kitimat airshed to safely accommodate industrial growth, while still protecting human health and the environment.”

“This report is helping shape management strategies to protect air quality, human health and our overall environment,” she said.

Minister Polak wouldn’t speak directly to questions about the withholding of the report, saying “we had always intended to release it…. I can’t comment directly on why they would have made that decision.”

She also said she wouldn’t comment on how the delay related to an appeal against the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter modernizations, but said “I know it related to the request they made specifically.”

Merran Smith, director of Clean Energy Canada, responded to the study, saying “the provincial government says the impacts of the proposed LNG plants will be manageable, but the reality is that burning natural gas to make LNG elevates levels of air pollutants that create acid rain and worsen asthma and other respiratory illnesses.”

Smith said Kitimat already suffers from a smog problem and both B.C. and industry need to take clean energy solutions more seriously if they are to live up to their own standards.

“If the industry moves forward with proposals to build gas-fired LNG plants in Kitimat, more people are at greater risk of getting sick more often. Proponents can largely eliminate this threat – reducing air emission by 70 per cent – by powering their plants with electric drives running on locally generated renewable energy.”

“Industry needs to step up to the plate,” she added.

The report was authored by ESSA Technologies, the same company hired by Rio Tinto Alcan to write a report, “Sulphur Dioxide Technical Assessment Report,” in support of the smelter’s expansion.

Rio Tinto Alcan claims “studies show [sulphur dioxide] from Kitimat Modernization project will not cause respiratory diseases in healthy people, but there may be a less than one per cent increase in restricted airway events for those with existing conditions such as asthma or COPD,” in a company brochure.

The company decided not to install air scrubbers, capable of reducing sulphur dioxide from industrial emissions, due to what they determined would be ‘limited’ impacts.

Minister Polak said the study focused solely on nitrogen and sulphur dioxide emissions and did not look at greenhouse gas or other particulate emissions.

Image Credit: Diagram of sulphur deposition, pg. 33 in the study.

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When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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