Armchair Mayor column, The Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009
The first casualty of war, the wisdom goes, is the truth.
Is that what’s happening in the near-hysterical, and highly effective, opposition to a cogeneration plant that would rid us of a quarter-million railway ties each year, and produce hydro energy to boot?
Just asking, because I see that, in the wake of the “Kamloops victory” over cogen, opponents of technological solutions to waste are ramping up a “Zero Waste B.C. Network.”
Such groups are springing up here and there, and are more or less the brainchild of retired chemistry professor Paul Connett, who has become the poster guy for anti causes that include fluoride and gasification technology.
Connett hails from St. Lawrence University, an obscure undergraduate school with a little more than 2,000 students in upstate New York.
He was brought to town by opponents of a project under development by Aboriginal Cogeneration Corp. to dispose of excess railway ties. They are convinced the gasification process that would be used by the company would unleash cancer-causing materials into our environment.
It worked, at least for now. Connett — who doesn’t stop at claiming gasification technology is a threat to the environment, but is positive our very democratic way of life is at stake — convinced City council to oppose the project.
The reason council got in line with opponents: too many questions need to be answered. Of course, council could simply have reserved judgment until it received satisfactory answers to those questions but, faced with a room full of angry people, it decided discretion is the better part of valor.
I don’t in the least disparage those who have concerns about the cogen plan, but I do wonder if there’s an excess of hyperbole.
Some of the stuff circulating about the company ranges from insulting to bordering on racist and simply isn’t acceptable. Every cause has its extremists, so the worst comments can be discounted. However, I sense more thunder than light being aimed at the issue.
The fears about air emissions don’t appear to acknowledge that throwing railway ties into a furnace is a lot different than using a high-tech gasifier developed at the Energy and Environmental Research Center in the U.S.
In fact, the schematic for the system that would be used in Kamloops indicates no emissions stack. The proponent says solid and liquid waste could be easily handled by municipal systems.
We ran a story in June quoting Jim Bridges, a toxicology and environmental health professor emeritus at the 14,000-student University of Surrey, who said chemical emissions from incineration can be controlled.
“As a consequence, a well managed waste facility is not a concern from a health perspective. . . . Many studies have been conducted in a wide range of countries that show there’s no detectable contamination of soil, plants or animals from a modern incinerator. Nor is there any identifiable increase in dioxin level in the blood or the breast milk of local residents.”
Particulate emissions from these modern incinerators are less than from diesel-powered vehicles, he said.
Bridges’ credentials seem at least equal to those of Connett. In addition to coming out of a distinguished major university in the U.K., he’s chair of the EU Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks, and is an advisor to the World Health Organization. He’s also written 300 research papers, edited 17 books and has served as Dean of Science at the university.
Is it in the realm of the possibility he knows what he is talking about?
Is it possible that Aboriginal Cogeneration has answers to the concerns of Save Kamloops and Zero Waste B.C.? Or is it more likely that no matter how much empirical evidence were stacked in front of them, opponents wouldn’t accept it?
I certainly am not going to become the defender of Aboriginal Cogeneration and its project — the company has as much responsibility to provide answers to people’s questions as people have a responsibility to carefully assess information that’s put to them.
With 25 million “creosote-laden” railway ties in need of disposal, it just seems to me we should be looking seriously at the best way of doing that.
While zero waste is an admirable goal, it’s not very practical when it comes to things like railway ties. If we want railways to run — and I’m pretty sure we do — we have to deal with the waste. We could simply pile them up and burn them in the open air like we used to do, or bury them, like we used to do, but neither of those methods was satisfactory.
Shall we simply hope that somebody is willing to gather up all those ties and take them away so someone else can suffer with the problem?
Whether it’s slaughterhouse waste in Westwold, garbage in the Lower Mainland, air emissions from Domtar, or railway ties in Kamloops, we’d be better served to seek real answers instead of simply to search out naysayers — like the guy from New York — who will preach the gospel according to our own bias.
Wouldn’t we? Just asking.