Kindling carcinogens, trashing the territory

There’s nothing like a breath of fresh air. But that might be hard to get in some Yukon communities. It might even be poisonous.

There’s nothing like a breath of fresh air.

But that might be hard to get in some Yukon communities.

It might even be poisonous.

“We’re the only jurisdiction in Canada that still allows garbage burning on municipal landfills,” said Raven Recycling co-ordinator Lewis Rifkind.

“Most of Canada hasn’t been doing it for donkeys’ years.”

And burning garbage has serious health implications, said Rifkind.

“It’s a form of pollution. You are taking waste and vaporizing it so it spreads much easier.

“Take plastic shopping bags, you turn those into a vapor form and then they can go anywhere.”

Polar bears and beluga whales are contaminated with pollutants from down south because it gets into the atmosphere, and on a smaller scale similar things happen from burning garbage, said Rifkind.

 “On a local level, it is not a nice thing to do. And the big thing is to recycle.”

When Mike Watson, who worked in recycling in Yellowknife for 15 years, moved to Mount Lorne almost 10 years ago, it was still common practice to burn at the local landfill.

“The smoke hung over there and it was horrible; that’s where I got involved,” said Watson.

Watson, who had also worked for the Whitehorse dump, made a proposal to the Community Development Fund to gate and staff the Mt. Lorne dump.

“It was the only way to stop the burning, we figured,” he said.

The government asked for a year to consider the proposal, but Watson put his foot down.

“We said, ‘no, it stinks, we can’t live here, you live here.’”

The proposal was accepted.

The burning stopped and everyone was happy, said Watson.

But when the funding ran out, the gate was left open and within a day burning started again.

“It always happens in other places too and nobody knows why, or who lights it. And it’s not Community Services.

“Some say the contractor was burning it, but he used to get paid to go in there and burn it, so why the hell would he burn it for nothing?” said Watson.

“In the end, maybe it was just people burning their private papers, who knows, but it did happen.”

Mount Lorne put in another successful proposal and the burning stopped again.

The community gathered enough statistics to do a year-round projection, and concluded it was going to be cheaper, or as cheap, to run a transfer station, as a dump.

It took him six years, but finally Watson was able to convince Community Services to create the transfer station.

Mount Lorne residents now dump their trash in bins and a disposal company transfers the waste to Whitehorse, where it is disposed of in a proper landfill.

 “It’s just as cheap as it was running the dump, and there’s no further water-table leaching problems, no burning problems, no forest fire problems; it has no liabilities, so it’s a win-win situation for everybody,” said Watson.

 When burnt, garbage releases thousands of pollutants including dioxin, furans, mercury, chlorine and high-density polyethylene derived from oil and natural gas.

“If you are burning (these substances), you are re-organizing them and breaking them up into our ecosystem, so it’s not a good thing, as they say,” said Rifkind.

“Also, you never quite know what is going to mix with what; there is always that unknown factor — you might burn one substance and that’s fine, but if you mix it with another substance and burn both together, you’ve got a problem.”

The chemicals released from burning garbage have been linked to cancer, thyroid problems, diabetes, heart disease and developmental difficulties in children, according to a Raven Recycling press release.

Dioxin, a toxic carcinogen released from burning garbage, does not break down. It settles in soil, water, vegetation and it can even be found in mother’s milk, said the release.

There is a Firesmart issue here too, said Rifkind.

Firesmart has been around for roughly 10 years now and it’s really taken off, people like the program, he said.

“And it reduces the fire-risk to communities, neighbourhoods and individual homes.

“But if you are burning garbage, you’re negating a lot of that.”

Burning dumps are often on the outskirts of a lot of these communities and they’re basically open pits with flames, said Rifkind.

“So, we’ve got this huge program to say don’t burn leaves in your backyard because of the fire risk, and then right next door there’s garbage set on fire — it’s just a basic safety thing.”

It takes some time for attitudes to change, said Rifkind.

“It takes a while until common sense becomes common.”

“Iqaluit and Nunavut don’t not burn, the Northwest Territories doesn’t either,” said Watson.

And the Whitehorse landfill hasn’t burnt garbage since 1992.

“But most other Yukon municipalities and government-owned sites still burn — Marsh Lake does, Carcross does, Watson Lake does,” said Watson.

“And that’s stupid. It’s dangerous. It’s really bad air quality when people live around a dump that burns.”

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