Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 11, 2014 - 8:21 am

Environment Canada: Iqaluit dump smoke tests reveal little immediate danger

Potentially toxic chemicals to be identified later

PETER VARGA
Iqaluit’s fire chief and director of emergency services, Luc Grandmaison, right, and fellow city officials announced June 10 that Environment Canada is doing air quality tests on smoke from the city’s landfill fire. Georges Long, senior officer of the federal agency’s environmental emergencies centre, second from left, said toxins in dump fire smoke “drop significantly” more than 70 metres away from the fire. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Iqaluit’s fire chief and director of emergency services, Luc Grandmaison, right, and fellow city officials announced June 10 that Environment Canada is doing air quality tests on smoke from the city’s landfill fire. Georges Long, senior officer of the federal agency’s environmental emergencies centre, second from left, said toxins in dump fire smoke “drop significantly” more than 70 metres away from the fire. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Environment Canada’s first set of Iqaluit air quality readings, taken June 7 to June 9, show that hazards from smoke and hazardous chemicals drop to normal levels at about 70 metres from the community’s three-week-old dump fire, officials said June 10.

“As you move away, a short distance from the landfill, the concentrations drop off significantly,” Georges Long, senior officer of preparedness and response with Environment Canada, said at press conference held inside Iqaluit’s city council chambers.

Long said, however, that his staff also found some isolated high-level “smoke spikes,” or bodies of air containing high concentrations of contaminants from smoke, one to five kilometres away from the dump.

The smoke’s source is a single pile in the landfill, measuring 90 metres long and 60 metres wide.

Iqaluit’s fire chief Luc Grandmaison said Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the federal environment minister, ordered the air testing team to Iqaluit on short notice

“The mayor was offered services from our minister Aglukkaq, to work with Environment Canada,” Grandmaison said at the conference.

Long’s emergency response team arrived June 7, one day after officials said they had no ability to do air quality monitoring, Grandmaison said.

In 2011, CBC North reported that Environment Canada would start hourly air quality tests in Iqaluit by early 2012, as part of a national program called the National Air Pollution Surveillance Program.

It’s not clear why those hourly tests have yet to start.

In last week’s air quality tests, Environment Canada staff took air-quality measurements with portable monitors at 15 locations throughout the city, Long said, as part of a first-level check for pollutants related to burning garbage.

This includes checks for particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, Long said.

More detailed air-quality checks will follow in the middle of the month, when Long’s office will install equipment to detect complex chemicals.

These include known carcinogens like dioxins and furans.

Long said the equipment would not be installed permanently, but he could not say when it would be removed from Iqaluit.

Maureen Baikie, the chief medical officer of health for Nunavut, said the territorial health department hasn’t yet had a chance to assess the results of the air quality tests.

So far, less than 10 people have gone to the hospital with smoke-related symptoms, Baikie said.

“None of them were serious,” she said.

The Nunavut health department will maintain a health advisory that advises residents to limit their exposure to smoke on days when westerly winds blow through the city, Baikie said.

The advisory says the dump smoke contains a mixture of chemicals and fine particles, that vary depending on temperature and what’s burning.

But the health department still hasn’t identified those chemicals.

“We don’t even know what’s burning in the dump,” Baikie said.

Environment Canada’s first week of work in Iqaluit “was just to come in and get some factual numbers, so we can help the health community to better-assess the smoke impact,” Long said.

The federal agency, with Health Canada, will ship and install equipment to conduct long-term monitoring” by mid-June, he said.

This will detect a broader range of chemicals in greater detail. The federal departments will then give the information to Nunavut’s department of health.

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