FVRD Poses Tough Questions on Fly Ash Investigation

October 31st, 2012
For immediate release

Environment Ministry Investigation Must Go Further Says FVRD

CHILLIWACK BC – Fraser Valley Regional District continues to pose tough questions to the BC Ministry of the Environment regarding the shipping of toxic ash from the Burnaby incinerator to the Cache Creek Landfill.

The FVRD put this matter in the spotlight this week following reports it received that hazardous material had been detected in the fly ash shipments. Subsequent to the FVRD’s questions, the B.C. government announced today that it has launched an investigation into the decision to ship the toxic fly ash.

The regional district is calling upon BC Environment Minister Terry Lake to expand the investigation to include the health authority and workplace safety experts. The regional district is concerned the investigation will not go far enough.

Said Sharon Gaetz, Chair of the Board of the Fraser Valley Regional District, “The Minister of the Environment continues to downplay the potential hazards to health. He claims that there is “currently nothing to indicate any risk whatsoever to human health or environmental safety”, however we know that there may be a danger to human health because the ash contains the metallic element cadmium.”

According to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, Cadmium is a heavy metal of considerable environmental and occupational concern. Cadmium compounds are classified as human carcinogens by several regulatory agencies. The most convincing data that cadmium is carcinogenic in humans comes from studies indicating occupational cadmium exposure is associated with lung cancer.

The FVRD has serious concerns about the effect of handling this material on workers at both Burnaby and Cache Creek as well as what may have come out of the stack in Burnaby and made its way into the Fraser Valley airshed.

“It is simply not good enough to investigate the non-compliance and testing irregularities. We must have answers on the risks to human health and the environment. We urge the Minister of the Environment to work with the Ministry of Health and Worksafe BC to do a comprehensive analysis of the hazardous waste and determine the potential impacts on human health.”

Gaetz raised the alarm when the FVRD realized that Covanta, the operators of the Burnaby incinerator, were aware of the failed tests as far back as July and did nothing to notify the public or workers of the potential risks.

“It is completely unacceptable that Covanta held back this information. Even more alarming is the attempt by Metro Vancouver to avoid public disclosure once they were made aware of the test failures.”

It is clear that the “surrogate” sampling technique is inadequate. The “surrogate” test is an initial test that they run on a truck full of flyash that has been sitting full for 24hrs at the incinerator waiting for the chemical reactions of binding process on the metals as they form phosphates to take effect, which is supposed to make them less leachable.

While all the loads in question purportedly did pass the “surrogate” test, the resulting composite TCLP test failed at the lab. The FVRD is looking into whether the surrogate sampling technique has a history of failure, and to see if the process is sound.
“My question,” said Gaetz “is why is the FVRD having to take the lead in researching these risks and inadequacies? Clearly this is a failed responsibility of Covanta, Metro Vancouver and the BC Ministry of the Environment. Once again, it points to the weaknesses and uncertainties surrounding incineration as a waste management option. We are gambling with public health.”

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For more information:

Sharon Gaetz
Chair, FVRD Board
Fraser Valley Regional District


George M. Murray
Chief Administrative Officer
Fraser Valley Regional District

Further information about cadmium:



3 Ways to Breathe Easier This Winter

In the back-to-school frenzy, summer air quality woes may seem like a thing of the past…at least until the first real chill triggers a spike in thermostat temperatures, and a flurry of preparations for a cooler season!

Let’s not forget that fall brings its own share of air quality woes, and there’s a handful of things we can do to breathe easier this winter!

Here are a few of our top picks:

Got a Wood Stove?  Did you know that old/inefficient or improperly operated wood stoves spew harmful fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) emissions into our airshed? So if you’ve been planning to upgrade your old wood stove for a new EPA approved one, or perhaps an even greener alternative – have we got an incentive for you! The FVRD is offering a $250 rebate to FVRD residents who exchange their old wood stove, for a less polluting alternative. For full program details visit our website! (Listed below)

Feel the Chill? If you’re feeling a faint draft, and are constantly turning up the thermostat, your house may need an insulation boost! This is sometimes as simple as caulking, sealing and weather-stripping your doors and windows. By doing this you’ll reduce unnecessary heating-related emissions, keeping your heating bills and pollution down to a minimum!

Hitting the Road? Did you know that a few simple tweaks can ready your car for a cleaner and safer commute? Replacing your car filter, keeping your tires properly inflated, rotating them and accelerating slowly will reduce air pollution and frequency of fuel-ups!

If you have any additional ideas on how to cut down fall pollution – we’d love to hear them!

Here are a few additional resources:

FVRD Wood Stove Exchange Program: http://www.fvrd.bc.ca/InsidetheFVRD/Departments/EngineeringandEnvironmentalServices/Pages/FVRDWoodStoveExchangeProgram.aspx

Burn-It-Smart Tips:


4 Ways to Boost Packaging Reduction!

“Burn or Bury?” seems to be the question of the day. What about tossing another “B-word” into the waste management mix? “Boost” – as in, “Boost” packaging reduction.

Who knows, if the third “B-word” takes off, the other two may lose popularity! And wouldn’t that be sustainable!

Although much of the “Boost” on the packaging arena needs to come from industry and senior governments (i.e. improving packaging design, regulating use of  “recyclable” materials in packaging etc.), we too can take baby-steps on the path to waste reduction by including these four simple steps in our daily routine:

Buy in Bulk or Concentrated Form: Flour, sugar, salt, chocolate chips, and other non-perishables can be bought in bulk and stored in tightly sealed containers.  You can also buy concentrated versions of laundry, dish detergent and other household cleaning supplies!  You’ll save packaging and money!

Be Creative: It’s just as easy (and arguably more fun) to creatively re-use something, as it is to toss it! For example why not convert a sturdy cardboard box into a stylish storage container by splashing it with some leftover paint?

Bring a Bag – before you shop, bring along your reusable grocery bags. The toughest part is remembering it each time. Tip: try storing a few extra bags in a visible spot in your car, or sticking a post-it reminder on your dashboard!

Be Aware of Package-free Alternatives – Opt for things that are less packaged. Advantages?  You won’t have to wonder how to dispose of the packaging! A tip for tea-drinkers – opt for loose-leaf tea  or tea leaves instead of tea bags. Also, if you have access to safe drinking water, say “no” to the water bottle!

Try it, and once you do, be sure to give yourself a pat on the back – you’re doing your part to Boost Packaging Reduction!

Here are a few  packaging reduction and recycling resources:

To find out which retailers offer packaging “take-back” programs visit http://rcbc.bc.ca/education/retailer-take-back , and scroll down to “Packaging”.

Curious where to recycle your egg cartons, milk jugs and other packaging items?  Try out RCBC’s “Recyclepedia” http://rcbc.bc.ca/recyclepedia .

Interesting article in the Times Colonist – “Aim to reduce garbage”.

Wood smoke worse than cigarettes?

SMOKY is the best description of the Fraser Valley’s airshed and landscape over the past few days. And the reason behind the hazy season?  Wildfires blazing in and around the region.

While weekend showers cleared the smoke, they weren’t enough to put a damper on fires burning around BC.

Besides obscuring the view of Mount Cheam, Baker and other usually prominent landmarks, last week’s milky haze makes one wonder about the less visible repercussions.

And what are those?

According to the BC Lung Association and Health Canada, wood smoke has a negative impact on both air quality and human health.

What’s the harm in it? 

Wood smoke is a source of fine particulate matter (2.5 microns or less in size), which causes significant concern. When breathed deeply into the lungs it can permanently stay there and contribute to both mild and serious health problems. 

Due to size, smaller particulate matter stays suspended in the air longer, and travels farther than larger particles like dust or sand.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that “these microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illness such as bronchitis. Fine particles can also aggravate chronic heart and lung disease – and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.”

A study conducted by the EPA, also found that wood smoke is more damaging than cigarette smoke, and concluded that breathing wood smoke particles during high pollution days is equivalent to smoking 4 to 16 cigarettes! Why? According to the study, “Some of the same strong cancer causing chemicals found in cigarette smoke, have also been found to be abundant in wood smoke.”

What about air pollution?

The link between wildfires and increased air pollution (especially in the summer), is undeniable. Many of the pollutants found in smoke, are the same as those present in smog, so make sure to take the same precautions on a smoky day, as you would on a smoggy one.

Don’t let the hazy season dim your summer plans! Take a minute to check the Air Quality Health Index http://bit.ly/uUnv2 and any fire restrictions in your area http://bit.ly/Fdb0X before enjoying our picturesque outdoors! 

And, for more suggestions about how to protect yourself until the wildfire haze disperses, the BC Lung Association offers a handful of helpful tips: http://bit.ly/cdioZC 

Still curious? Read our “Top 5 Smoke Facts” http://bit.ly/avqEGp

Top 5 smoke facts

1.       Man-made, nature-made, it’s all the same…

Wildfire smoke is no different than campfire smoke or wood-stove smoke – it’s equally harmful to air quality and health.

2.       The main concern is…

Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) is the main concern-causing ingredient in smoke. These particles are 2.5 microns (or less) in size, and can travel deep into the lungs, causing respiratory and heart problems.

3.       The smaller it is, the farther it goes…

Fine particulate matter found in wood smoke stays in the air longer and travels farther than coarser particles like road dust or sand.

4.       And then there’s the gas…

Smoke also contains harmful gasses including Carbon Monoxide, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Dioxins and Furans – common smog and air pollution ingredients.

5.       As toxic as…

The toxic content of wood smoke is similar to that of diesel exhaust or tobacco smoke. (Dr. Brian McCarry, McMaster University)

Is it worth the risk?

Recent media buzz and public debate around Metro Vancouver’s proposed incineration plans makes one wonder if incineration is a risky business, and whether it’s a risk worth taking?

Granted, life is full of risks – deciding where to invest your money or what kind of car to buy – some risks are unavoidable. But what about those that might have long-term impacts on the health of entire communities and the quality of our air?  Should those kinds of risks be avoided?

There seems to be a flurry of opinions on the matter. Here’s what we think.

New technology = no emissions.  Not true. Even some of the most advanced air-filters cannot stop harmful emissions of ultra-fine particulate matter (the most harmful in part due to their size) from infiltrating the airshed.

Scientists, like Dr. Paul Connett, Dr. Douw Steyn and many others also argue that the toxins don’t magically disappear. The ash is left over – anywhere between 10 to 30 per cent of what originally went in. The most harmful compounds are trapped in the remaining ash and gaseous emissions.

New technology = no health impacts. False. Health studies conducted in communities located near incinerators have showed that that human health is in fact adversely impacted. Professor Vyvyan Howard acknowledged in his “Statement of Evidence: Particulate Emissions and Health, 2009” that “Although not such a high contributor to national PM [particulate matter*] inventories, incinerators appear to be very important local sources of particulate contamination.” 

Fact: Even the most advanced Waste to Energy systems cannot capture 100 per cent of some of the most harmful emissions, which are known to cause cancer, heart attacks, strokes, asthma and pulmonary disease. Greenpeace Research Laboratories published a report titled “Incineration and Human Health”, which identifies several health effects associated with living near, or working at an incineration facility.

New technology = continuous monitoring. Fiction. The reality is that only a fraction of the hundreds of compounds emitted by incinerators are monitored, or even regulated in Canada or the U.S. The majority of toxins are not required to be continuously monitored, if the technology for monitoring them even exists. According to Dr. Paul Connett, “There are no regulations in the world monitoring nanoparticles from incinerators.” Nanoparticles are the smallest version of particulate matter, less than 1 micron in diameter, and are produced in high temperature combustion, which includes incineration. These particles are so small that according to Connett, “they can cross the lung membrane and enter the blood stream. Once there, they can enter every tissue in the body, including the brain…The nanoparticles from incinerators are the most dangerous of any common source.”

Due to the lack of monitoring capabilities, it seems impossible to get a realistic understanding of how much pollution escapes, and communities are left to rely on info about “top” instead of “all” pollutants.

Day-to-day emissions aside, according to the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives: “U.S. regulatory agencies have found that incinerators are prone to various types of malfunctions, system failures and breakdowns, which routinely lead to serious pollution control problems and increased emissions that are dangerous to public health.”

Given these facts, what’s your call? Should we take a chance on the Fraser Valley’s airshed? Post your comments.

Need more information?

Visit our Resources page:


Here are some other opinions:


Here is the Greepeace Report

“Incineration and Human Health”

* Particulate matter (PM) is otherwise known as particle pollution, meaning particles ranging from 0.03 to 100 microns in diameter. PM is made up of a number of components including acids, organic chemicals, metals and soil or dust particles.