Before Yukon dumps get renewed permission to burn garbage, they need to figure out how not to burn garbage, says the Yukon Conservation Society.
Emission permits for 19 community garbage dumps are before Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for re-approval in 2009.
Burn facilities exist at community dumps primarily for the use of community services contractors to burn off organic waste, said Anne Middler, energy policy co-ordinator at the Yukon Conservation Society.
However, a lack of convenient diversion programs are forcing the burn facilities into overuse — and are causing dump users to burn hazardous materials that would otherwise be recyclable.
The Whitehorse landfill has not burned garbage since 1992.
“Due to the unstaffed nature of these dumps, all sorts of material is ending up in the burn vessels, such as plastics and potential hazardous wastes,” wrote Lewis Rifkind, in a letter to YESAB on behalf of Raven Recycling.
“While every effort is made to inform the public that they should not put certain items in the burn vessels (such as oil, batteries and aerosol cans) a certain percentage do end up in the container and get burnt … releasing potential toxins and poisons into the atmosphere,” he wrote.
All community dumps have an onsite “burning vessel,” except for Carcross, which uses an open trench.
The burning vessels are not incinerators — they are converted underground fuel tanks equipped with chimneys.
In operating plans prepared for the 19 dumps by the Yukon government, the air quality was listed as “moderate” and was noted as a potential public health concern.
Garbage should be burned hotter, to reduce exhaust, and users should be better informed of burn policy, recommended the plans.
A full ban is needed, asserts the conservation society.
Emission permits should be renewed by Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board — but with the understanding that burn facilities be phased out by 2011.
The burning of hazardous materials can aggravate the existing respiratory problems of people within the community — such as those with asthma and chronic emphysema, said Brendan Hanley, the Yukon’s medical officer of health.
However, if the smoke is “noxious enough,” it could lead to adverse effects on anybody, regardless of prior condition, he said.
“If you’re just burning anything right next to a community, then I think there could be legitimate concerns about how well that’s regulated and who’s burning what,” said Hanley.
“It’s not just an issue for people that are inundated with this toxic pollution, it’s the health of our ecosystem — all Yukoners should care about this,” said Middler.
The Yukon Department of Community Services could not be reached for comment. (Tristin Hopper)