Council is concerned about air quality

City council is worried about the air quality in Whitehorse and the rest of the territory. While investigating whether to approve a new concrete…

City council is worried about the air quality in Whitehorse and the rest of the territory.

While investigating whether to approve a new concrete batch plant in the McLean Lake area, council discovered the territorial government does not have any air-quality standards in place.

This is a problem during thermal inversions, which trap wood smoke and car exhaust in the air over Riverdale, say politicians.

Council has agreed to submit a resolution supporting air-quality legislation at the Association of Yukon Communities annual general meeting.

If passed, the association will begin to lobby the territorial government to develop air-quality standards.

“My general feeling is that, yes, most communities would like to see some kind of air standards in place,” said councillor Doug Graham who is also president of AYC.

“Now my information from YTG is that they believe adequate standards are in place, or at least the department (Environment) does, but it could be that we just don’t understand exactly what YTG already has in place.”

The government currently has a permit system for new development.

Such a document will only be issued if the developer agrees to abide by the air-quality regulations the government sets.

The government assesses the air-quality regulations that need to be in place on a case-by-case basis, said Environment spokesperson Dennis Senger.

“The permit would give you the terms and conditions by which you operate, that’s how we regulate it and the permit will contain the conditions of what you’re allowed to do,” said Senger.

“There’s what’s called Canada-wide standards for these sort of things and we follow those standards.”

The city does not think the government is doing enough.

YTG has a permitting process that includes regulations, but doesn’t have any limits set on how many parts per million of certain chemicals are allowed to be emitted into the air by industry, said city director for administrative services Robert Fendrick.

“When we were looking at the McLean Lake quarry and batch plant proposal, that’s where this kind of came up because council was trying to find all the information that they could get their hands on to make a decision and in doing so they realized that it seems odd that these particular limits aren’t in place,” said Fendrick.

“So if somebody says something is going to cause an air-quality problem — well how do you know?

“Do you know if it’s going to be above or below a certain limit? And without those standards in place it’s impossible to measure that.

“There’s a gap we think in existing legislation with respect to a lack of benchmarks or standards that you can actually measure air quality against.”

Not all industry operations need air-quality permits from the government to operate.

For example, the city approved the McLean Lake concrete batch plant of less than four square hectares, so it doesn’t require any air-quality regulations, said Senger.

“During the whole McLean Lake debate we found that most of the attention was centered on an asphalt plant that had nothing to do with the McLean Lake concrete batch plant and I think that’s what got people in city council at least thinking, ‘My goodness maybe we better look and see what can be done about those things,’” said Graham.

 “Now, like I said, I’m not sure if we’ve just misinterpreted and the standards are in place and maybe we just don’t understand what the process is to enforce them.

“Once we begin those conversations with the government, we should be able to work it out fairly quickly because … I feel confident that they have the same interests that we do.”

Contact Sarah Fox at sarahf@yukon-news.com

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