Armchair Mayor column, Kamloops Daily News, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009
Just supposing we had too many old railway ties. Too much garbage. Too much waste from slaughterhouses.
And then, somebody came along and said, “I have a technology that can get rid of all that stuff. It’s called gasification.”
“But,” you say, “what about all those dioxins, and fine particles and all those other things with the scary-sounding names?”
“Well, consider this,” the guy says. “The New Year fireworks display in London, England, produces more dioxins than all the incinerators and waste-to-energy plants produce in one year.”
“Really?” you say. “So that must be one heckuva fireworks.”
“Sure, but did you also know that cooking food on a barbeque for two hours results in a higher dioxin exposure than being near an incinerator for several years?”
“I definitely did not know that,” you say. “What else?”
“One hour of emissions from a gasifier stack is equivalent to the emissions of 20 vehicles travelling two miles at a steady speed. Cooking on a gas stove or frying food such as bacon results in higher exposure than does a gasifier performing badly.”
“What a crock!” you might say.
But what if I told you all the stuff I’ve just quoted from an imaginary gasifier proponent actually are paraphrased from a presentation to Metro Vancouver by Prof. Jim Bridges, the eminent expert on toxicology and environmental health, whom I also quoted in this space a couple of weeks ago.
Bridges is not a cheerleader for waste incinerators, but he does have some pretty interesting things to say. How much of it applies to the Aboriginal Cogeneration plans for a gasification plant to get rid of old railway ties I don’t know, because I’m not qualified to say.
I doubt there are many true experts hereabouts, actually. And yet, everybody talks like one. Why look at practical solutions to our growing waste problem when we can promote well-intentioned but somewhat romantic notions of total recycling?
Naturally, we need to challenge the claims on both sides of the issue so if you’re skeptical of the fireworks or barbeque statements, question them.
Bridges, it turns out, testified a dozen years ago that there wasn’t enough evidence from animal tests to link smoking to lung cancer. That revelation isn’t likely to bolster his credibility, but he now says scientists have a better understanding of the link in humans. That’s not to say Bridges is any less credible than incineration opponent Paul Connett, who has crusaded against fluoride.
As to the ACC proposal, I wrote down a few questions and sent them off to the company, based on concerns some people have raised, and got back the following answers from vice president Mike Agostinelli:
1. Opponents do not believe there will be no air emissions. Can you address this?
“There will be no air emissions from the gasifier. The syngas produced by the gasifier is cleaned and used in two internal combustion engines. Each of the two engines will have their exhaust discharged through a 12 m high stack (28 cm diameter). Occasionally, cleaned syngas is routed to an enclosed burner (start-up, shut down phase). Emissions of criteria air contaminants were given in the technical report at the time of application, in grams per second. Assuming the enclosed burner runs five per cent of the time, the annual emissions, in tonnes per year are: sulphur dioxide = 0.4; carbon monoxide = 8.6; oxides of nitrogen = 14.4; volatile organic carbon = 1.6; respirable particulate matter = 0.2.
“Perhaps the reason why the opponents don’t believe the numbers is because they are so small and the project itself is truly a small power project.”
2. How much liquid and solid waste will be produced, and what will it contain?
“The water discharged from each system (1,700 tons/year per unit) will meet the City of Kamloops sewer-use bylaw. Approximately 600 tons/year of potash (solids discharge per unit) will likely be sold. ACC has a contingency plan that will include sending the potash to a licensed landfill, if a customer is not found. ACC’s goal is to reuse as much of (the) rail ties as possible either as a fuel for our engine or as a environmentally safe bi-product.”
3. They are concerned about possibility of fire in stockpiled ties. What safety measures will you take to avoid this?
“The ACC site does not typically store ties; we stage our tie processing so that as ties are received, they are inspected, any steel is removed from the ties, then the ties are chipped (through a chipper with dust suppression) and directly loaded into a truck. No chipped ties are stored at the site. The ACC site is equipped with a fire protection and suppression system. The Kamloops fire department has visited our site and has not reported any violations.”
I’m sure there are many other questions but it just seems to me we should seek answers rather than jumping to the conclusion something won’t work.
Let’s set aside dreams of the ideal wasteless society, and think practical. If there’s a better way of doing things than what we’re doing with our waste right now, I’m of a mind we should at least consider it and analyse it.
If someone out there can challenge Prof. Bridges and engineer Agostinelli with something other than a lot of stuff about the collapse of democracy and the demise of civilization, please do. But, at least, let’s think about it.