COLUMN: ‘Somewhat’ higher levels of rail tie ash not an acceptable description

Rail tie ash and lack of science should be of a concern to everyone.

Rail tie ash and lack of science should be of a concern to everyone.

The Atlantic Power response to the question about the difference between the pollutant levels in the rail tie ash compared to the ash from burning regular hog fuel was as follows: “the pollutant levels in the ash from rail ties, although “somewhat higher” than from traditional fuel sources are still within BC Regulations.” The dioxan/furan results from the April 2001 Trial Burn, Table 8 titled “Fuel and Ash Summary Analytical Data” are presented below:

Regular Ash (23.8 pg/g dioxins/furans); Rail tie Ash (100 per cent ties — 788 pg/g dioxins/furans).

Assuming a 50 per cent reduction in dioxins/furan levels if 50 per cent rail ties were burned: 788/2=394 pg/g.

Then (394-23.8)/23.8 x 100 = 1,555.5 per cent more dioxins/furans present in the 50 per cent rail tie ash than ash from regular hog fuel.

A one or two per cent change in my bank interest I consider somewhat higher but never would I call a 1,500 per cent increase “somewhat” higher.

If the thousands (millions ?) of tons of fly and bottom ash produced by the plant since 1993 were placed back on the forest land where it originated it might not be a problem. When it is stored above a river so close to a city it becomes a liability and a danger. If the plan is considering adding ash which is thousands of per cent more toxic to the already unacceptable situation, then terms like “somewhat” are not adequate to describe the potential risk to the town.

In response to a question about dealing with this “somewhat” more toxic ash component the response was rather vague: “They will continue to operate in accordance with the currently approved plan.”

Rodger Hamilton makes the following comments in a note on the rail issue.

“The current ash landfill is situated on a lacustrine bench immediately above the Williams Lake river about five kilometres northwest from downtown Williams Lake; it appears to be close to full and I am unaware of any proposals for situating a new replacement landfill. I have also observed  extreme dusting events blowing towards the downtown area during periods of high winds from the northwest. Ash disposal is an important long term liability and it deserves attention during this application review process.”

When a local politician was asked why they supported the application by Atlantic Power the response was they believed in the science.

I don’t consider myself an expert but I do have some post graduate course work on computer modelling from UBC and the following is my quick summary of the science.

The April 2001 stack survey during the 100 per cent rail tie burn was conducted over three days during which three one hour tests were completed to measure contaminants discharged from the stack; the average of these three one hour tests constitutes one survey data point. It would take a lot more measurements over a variety of burn conditions to get adequate data for any model. Calibration and testing of any model requires a way of monitoring the predicted outcomes which would also take sophisticated monitoring systems throughout the air shed at many locations and differences in elevations throughout the variable atmospheric conditions in the valley.

I have lived and worked in the valley since 1974 and was able to witness the inversions that take place throughout the year compared to the conditions from my home outside of the valley air shed.

According to the RWDI study, our air shed is already predicted to exhibit 82 per cent of the BC Air Quality Objective for PM2.5 ; the handling and burning of up to four million rail ties per year over the next decade is not something to consider at this time or any other especially when we have a much cleaner source of fibre available most of which is being burned in the field.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

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