Environment Canada’s more detailed air tests get under way in Iqaluit

Landfill fire will burn for a few weeks yet


A lone raven flies above the smouldering garbage heap at Iqaluit's landfill just south of the city. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

A lone raven flies above the smouldering garbage heap at Iqaluit’s landfill just south of the city. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Don’t like the smell of burning garbage wafting through your neighbourhood?

Get used to it, Iqalummiut — for another few weeks, at least.

Federal health and environment staff are performing long-term tests on Iqaluit air quality over the next week, hoping to pinpoint the best way to extinguish Iqaluit’s perpetual inferno of trash.

Smoke from the landfill fire is, at times, hard to take. When it blows into the city centre, people cover their faces with T-shirts and sweaters. Others seek refuge indoors.

The second round of air-quality tests are different than those performed June 7 to 9, which revealed little immediate danger to the public.

“The first was a very preliminary two-day snapshot. So this is a bit more detailed equipment that’s going to give us a better reading over a longer period of time,” said Cate Macleod, director of communications at the Government of Nunavut.

Environment Canada staff have set up the air-monitoring equipment in four areas around the city: Apex, Tundra Ridge, downtown at the Four Corners and near the air force base.

“These readings will help give us a better idea of what is in the smoke, if it is harmful and how to best put out the fire at the dump,” a June 17 City of Iqaluit public service announcement said.

But data from the tests must be sent south for analysis, and results won’t be available until after next week, Macleod said.

Iqaluit fire chief Luc Grandmaison is also consulting federal and territorial health and environmental experts to figure out how best to extinguish the landfill fire.

“They’re talking with people who have dealt with dump fires before,” Macleod said.

“And also keeping in mind environmental considerations and what happens to the smoke when you put it out, because that [may] change the composition of the smoke.”

After tests come back, city officials expect their federal counterparts will offer a few options to Iqaluit City Council. Macleod hopes that will happen in “a couple of weeks.”

One option is flame-retardant foam, which is used to extinguish big fires.

“We are, in fact, looking at using foam,” the GN’s minister of community and government services Tom Sammurtok said June 9 at the Nunavut legislative assembly.

“However, my understanding is that the foam that is used in the event of an aircraft accident is apparently not the preferred foam to use,” Sammurtok said.

But “there is a different kind of foam that would be environmentally acceptable to use,” Sammurtok said.

“We are looking at all these options.”

Macleod said there are many options to consider, “but nobody’s decided on anything. We certainly don’t know how it’s going to happen yet.”

The now-infamous dump fire — known affectionately by locals as dumpcano — has received national attention over the past 35 days.

Dumpcano has its own commemorative T-shirt and even a Twitter account. Its anonymous creator has accumulated about 440 Twitter followers.

As of June 10, Dumpcano’s smoke has sent fewer than 10 people to the hospital with smoke-related symptoms. But Maureen Baikie, chief medical officer of health for Nunavut, said none of those cases were serious.

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