he toxic smoke pouring out of the Tagish dump is so thick some days, it makes Anne Middler’s eyes water.
“I mean, why do I live in Tagish?” said Middler on Thursday.
“I don’t want to breathe in pollution all the time, but I have to. And it’s burning garbage, it reeks and stinks so bad — people are suffering.”
It’s no different in Carcross.
“We get smoke downwind of the dump, some days it just hovers in the valley,” said Crag Lake resident Theo Stad.
“And we’re breathing that crap.”
The Yukon is the only jurisdiction in Canada that allows burning at municipal landfills.
“The public just assumes the government these days would have an environmentally wise waste-management strategy,” said Stad.
At Wednesday’s Carcross advisory council meeting, Community Services program manager Kriss Sarson proposed a burning vessel for the Carcross dump.
Made from retrofitted underground fuel tanks with an attached smokestack, burning vessels “ consolidate and expedite burning and reduce the risk of forest fires,” said Community Services communications spokesperson Brenda Wale on Thursday.
But it doesn’t change the amount of toxins spewing into the air, said Stad.
The Yukon government promised Carcross it would come up with a solution to the community’s garbage problem by the end of the last fiscal year, he added.
“And now it comes up with this archaic, draconian idea of a burn barrel.”
It’s not an incinerator.
And unless garbage is burned at temperatures higher than 1,200-degrees Celsius, the level of toxins in the smoke remains the same, said Stad.
Burn vessels are being introduced into as many municipal dumps as possible, said Wale.
“They burn garbage at a much higher temperature and more completely.”
Fifteen of the territory’s 20 waste stations outside Yukon municipalities are already using the vessels, she said.
However on Wednesday, Carcross turned down the government’s offer.
“We prefer not to have a burning vessel,” said Carcross advisory council chair Linda Pringle.
“We don’t need to add more pollutants to the land, air and water.
“We want to look at other alternatives and start recycling in a more proactive manner.”
The Carcross dump currently recycles only refundable waste items.
“But we have to take responsibility for our garbage,” said Pringle.
“And cut down on what goes into the pit.”
Burning vessels, which cost about $15,000 to install, are only a stopgap measure, she said.
“And we don’t want to spend $15,000 on a stop-gap measure that won’t make much of a difference in terms of air quality.
“So we’re sticking with our ugly smoke, for now.”
The advisory council is partnering with the Carcross/Tagish First Nations to set up a recycling program, added Pringle.
At the last advisory council meeting in Tagish, Sarson also offered this community a burning vessel.
“The situation in Tagish is brutal,” said Middler.
Situated in the middle of the community, with subdivisions on all sides, the dump burns at least once a week, she said.
“I breathe it in when it’s burning and they’re burning everything — old insulation, pressure-treated wood, siding with lead paint on it,” said Middler.
“The smoke moves laterally and hangs in the subdivisions — it feels like chemical warfare.
“And the reality is there’s so much recyclable material getting burnt.”
And a burning vessel won’t change this, she said.
“YTG has to help the community manage waste in better ways.”
The government needs an effective, aggressive education campaign, said Stad.
“Unless that happens not much is going to change, regardless of whether garbage is burnt in the open or in a burning vessel — the smoke won’t be any less toxic.”
The Tagish and Carcross dumps are unmanned open pits where anyone can dump anything at anytime.
So everything will end up getting thrown into the vessel and burned, said Stad.
“A burning vessel won’t change anything,” added Middler. “We’re still going to have plastics, recyclables, tin cans and compostables all going in the same pot and getting burned.
“What the hell is the difference here? The issue is burning garbage.
“Suddenly there are 30 old refrigerators at the Tagish dump,” she said.
“And you know, 30 people in Tagish didn’t get new refrigerators, it’s people driving down the highway and dumping stuff off where they won’t have to pay a fee.
“And all this is getting burnt.”
Toxic emissions from burning garbage pose a significant risk to public health and the environment, according to a five-page report prepared by Yukon Environment program assistant Matthew Nefstead.
Smoke from burning garbage contains deadly, carcinogenic chemicals, including dioxins and furans, heavy metals, acids, aldehydes, nitrogen and sulphur oxides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
“The Yukon should consider the possibility of a ban on the open burning of garbage,” writes Nefstead.
“The thing is, it just cost a lot to get into much more,” said Wales.
“At some point, we’re going to have to make people pay. Because everybody wants wonderful municipal-type services as long as they don’t have to pay for it.
“And a high-temperature burning really does seem like a reasonable solution for many small Yukon dumps,” she said.
“We’re not talking about a huge population base.”
“Sometimes I think the government just doesn’t care,” said Middler.
“They cheap out. They just can’t find enough money to help us turn our dump into a transfer station.”