Putting out fires

The Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Assessment Board has released its recommendations regarding the continuing burning of household waste at most community dumps. The recommendation is that the open burning of solid waste be prohibited except for cl

The Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Assessment Board has released its recommendations regarding the continuing burning of household waste at most community dumps.

The recommendation is that the open burning of solid waste be prohibited except for clean wood and paper.

This recommendation includes a prohibition on burning garbage in the existing burning vessels, essentially very large barrels with spark suppressors on the chimneys.

What is occurring at most Yukon community dumps is that garbage is burned.

Due to the unstaffed nature of the dumps, there is no way to prevent plastics and hazardous waste being burned.

This means that whenever burning occurs all sorts of nasty toxins are released into the atmosphere.

These toxins could potentially include heavy metals, dioxins and furans.

Not only can these items be toxic in and of themselves, but when burnt they can mix and bond together to form potentially even more harmful elements.

This practice has been reviewed by Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Assessment Board, and it has been found wanting.

The board notes that waste burning has historically been responsible for a significant portion of the mercury, dioxins and furans emitted in Canada.

Mercury and other heavy metals such as lead, and substances such as dioxins and furans, have been associated with adverse health conditions in humans

Since there has been little to no testing of the air emissions at the dumps, the quantities of heavy metals, dioxins and furans emitted are not known.

There are emission standards for these elements when waste is burnt at a dump.

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment set Canadian standards for mercury, dioxin and furan emissions from waste burning.

These standards include targets for the virtual elimination of the emitting of these toxins.

Now the next step in the dump burning-review process is for the Yukon government to accept, reject or modify the recommendation that the open burning of solid waste be prohibited.

It will be slightly awkward if burning is allowed to continue, and heavy metals, dioxins and furans continue to be released above and beyond the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment standards.

In two weeks it will be more than awkward, it will be embarrassing.

That is when the aforementioned Council of the Ministers of the Environment is meeting in Whitehorse.

The Yukon government, as host of this meeting, should be living up to the standards that this group of ministers has set.

It must be noted that the Yukon Environment and Socio-Economic Assessment Board recommendations on waste treatment at community dumps are mainly consistent with what the general public, environmental groups and local levels of government have been asking for. They have been asking for, and the recommendation in part concurs, that the open burning of solid waste be prohibited.

This recommendation is good news for the environment, it is good news for communities, and it is good news for the Yukon.

There are alternatives to burning waste that are safe for both the environment and for humans in dealing with waste.

However there are also consequences, costs and benefits to all different waste-management practices.

It is just a matter of assigning resources to finding and implementing the healthiest for each community.

The next year will require a lot of hard work by all concerned in waste management in addressing this issue.

Well-deserved congratulations go out to all Yukon people who spoke up and who submitted comments on this issue.

As far as waste management goes, ongoing participation by all concerned will ensure a clean and healthy environment.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.

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