Landfill expert says $3.5-million dunking best solution for Iqaluit dump fire
“You don’t have a landfill here. You’ve got a dump.”
Iqaluit owns one of the worst landfill sites in North America.
So says Dr. Tony Sperling, a $350-an-hour expert who the City of Iqaluit hired to help them come up with a solution to its perpetually smoldering dump fire.
“In my professional opinion, I’m sorry to report to you, that it’s one of the worst examples of landfill operations in North America right now,” Sperling told city councillors June 30 in a three-hour special meeting.
“You don’t have a landfill here. You’ve got a dump,” Sperling said.
The dump fire will be costly to extinguish, he said, and there’s a short window of opportunity to do it before winter comes — two worries that the cash-strapped capital doesn’t need right now.
Sperling, a landfill designer who helped extinguish several landfill fires throughout the continent, said the most efficient and cheapest solution is to dunk the smoldering dump fire, lump by lump, into a pool.
That method is called “controlled overhaul,” and it would cost, by his estimate, a whopping $3.4 million.
“We would build a big pond. Then the material would be moved down slowly to the bottom of the slope, and pushed into a pond that would be constructed there,” Sperling said.
That “quenching pond” — think of it as dumpcano‘s kiddie pool — would soak and extinguish the garbage.
“We would do that slowly,” Sperling said, “and at the same time the firefighters would be protecting equipment, spraying down the slope, so not a lot of dust would be released.”
Once the fire is out, garbage would be dumped back onto the landfill with some added dirt and the waste water would be treated for more than a year before being discharged back into the environment.
The method might create more smoke to begin with and would be completed in about two months, Sperling said.
The other plausible option that Grandmaison suggested — injecting a pipe and introducing air to the dump fire — would take longer and cost more: an estimated $5 million.
Regardless of the approach, it’s money the city doesn’t have, Coun. Kenny Bell said.
“We don’t have the money. That’s a fact. We can’t afford this,” Bell said.
Bell called on chief administrative officer John Hussey to explain how the city could possibly pay for the endeavor.
Hussey said the city would have to look at capital expenditures for the year and see if they can scale back somehow.
Putting a freeze on hiring, delaying capital building plans and halting purchases are options, Hussey said.
Sperling said higher levels of government usually dig into their pockets in emergency situations like this.
“Everyone here pays provincial and federal taxes, and basically those are intended to help when things go south, beyond the normal capacity,” Sperling said.
Another option is declaring a state of emergency in Iqaluit, and letting the territorial government deal with it.
“I understand here, in Iqaluit, that basically the Government of Nunavut takes control of the whole town — everything. And [the landfill fire working group] is reluctant to go into that direction, because obviously it would be very disruptive,” Sperling said.
Money aside, Sperling said the dump fire must be put out as soon as possible. Letting it burn down naturally might take up to a year.
And trying to put out a fire in winter is “not pleasant.”
“I think you have two or three months to put this fire out,” Sperling said. “Time is of the essence. And we don’t have the time to keep analyzing the data.”
Sperling also suspects there’s some “nasties” in the smoke that are damaging to human health.
Jamasee Moulton of the GN’s environment department told city council that “volatile organic compounds” — chemicals that create smog — are low, based on data received from air monitor testing in Iqaluit.
The tests revealed compounds are well below those found in larger cities, and the air is comparable to that of Prince George, British Columbia.
Not all the data is in yet, however. And Moulton could not say whether there’s an increase in “particulate matter” — tiny pieces of solids and liquids in the air.
But Sperling said the air at ground zero, where air testing is not occurring, is bad.
“I personally believe that we’re going to find some nasties in that smoke. And in my mind, there’s no doubt about that.”
Sperling experimented with the dump fire with an excavator this past weekend. Whenever the excavator would dig into parts of the dump fire, dust would billow out.
“If we were to sample that material, we might actually see that it is classified as hazardous waste,” Sperling said, adding firefighters and city workers at the dump should be wearing breathing masks.
Sperling was supposed to leave Iqaluit July 1, but he’s now sticking around to consult more with the consortium of partners who form the landfill fire working group.