Letter: Time for Tolko to clean up its act

Turning a blind eye to the air emissions from Tolko’s Kelowna mill is unacceptable from a public health standpoint.

Open letter to Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray, City of Kelowna council, Central Okanagan Regional District board chairman Robert Hobson:

Re: Air emissions from Tolko Mill endangers public health (Wet Wood Burn Source of Concern, April 25 Capital News)

Turning a blind eye to the air emissions from Tolko’s Kelowna mill is unacceptable from a public health standpoint.

The mill emits smoke and particulates that are both carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals and impair lung function. Especially vulnerable are the young and elderly, which make up 50 per cent of Kelowna’s population.

The Central Okanagan Regional District’s October 2001 discussion paper on air quality stated then that one in 10 people living in the region have asthma; 3,000 people have advanced bronchitis or emphysema; and 500 people have heart conditions. CORD also estimated the regional costs of human suffering and loss of health and quality of life by stating that the average costs of “symptom days” due to outdoor air quality range from $1.5 million to $7 million per year; and estimated that loss of work time at $1 million to $1.5 million per year.

Times have changed since 2001. There are more people here now; there are more health issues related to air pollution; and, the public health costs have more than tripled. Yet Tolko continues to pollute our air shed without using state of the art air pollution control equipment.

The city and the regional district need to step up to the plate to protect public health. A few options come to mind.

First, sanction Tolko for non-compliance using both city and regional bylaws regarding burning wet woody debris.

Second, file formal complaints against Tolko with BC Environment, BC Health, Environment Canada and Health Canada citing non-compliance with Tolko’s air emissions permits during this smoke event.  Ask these agencies to initiate more frequent stack tests and continuous off-site monitoring at numerous sites to detect particulate, volatile organic compounds and fugitive dust emissions that escape from Tolko’s mill site. Ask that the off-site emissions collection plates be analyzed to determine the origin of the particulate.

For more than a decade, these agencies have recognized the health impacts of smoke from industrial burners and have classified smoke and particulate as toxic compounds.  Off site monitoring will quickly show how serious air emissions are in the neighbourhood surrounding the mill and will support charges being laid under federal and provincial legislation. Tolko’s executives, shareholders and local managers need to wake up to the fact that air pollution is a public health issue.

Third, work with all stakeholders to ensure Tolko’s Kelowna mill upgrades its air emission and fugitive dust control technology. Replacing the inefficient dry electrostatic precipitators (ESPs) with highly efficient wet ESPs will vastly improve air emissions from the mill stacks.  Fugitive dust can be contained, recaptured and used in the plant as fuel or as a wood filler or binder. The costs for these upgrades will be paid back in a few short years with maintenance savings alone, which will directly benefit Tolko’s owners and local residents for many decades to come. New wet ESPs will also eliminate the black gobs of crud that are emitted from Tolko’s stacks and land on local cars and boats.

Local residents have long known that Tolko has a problem that must be fixed. The city and the regional district have long been dragging their feet on solving the problem.

This is an election year. Show voters you mean business. Make Tolko’s air emissions the public health issue it really is. Tell Tolko polluters will not be tolerated. Tell them to clean up their act because the city and the regional district need a clean and healthy environment for its citizens and visitors to prosper and enjoy a high quality of life.

It’s time for you to roll up your sleeves and get to work for the little guys.

Richard Drinnan, MSc, environmental consultant



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