Metro Van’s doubts about toxic fly ash tests raises concern: Gaetz

Doubts cast by Metro Vancouver about incineration testing protocols has raised further concerns at the FVRD about hazardous waste disposal.

Doubts cast by Metro Vancouver about incineration testing protocols has raised further concerns at the Fraser Valley Regional District about hazardous waste disposal.

Metro’s solid waste manager Paul Henderson said last week that a fly ash sample from the Burnaby incinerator that had exceeded toxicity limits was tested a second time and found not to be hazardous, leading him to doubt the accuracy of the lab’s test for leachability.

But FVRD chair Sharon Gaetz said in a news release that “by questioning their own tests, Mr. Henderson is throwing all previous testing and existing protocols into doubt.”

Testing of 1,800 tonnes of fly ash sent to the Cache Creek landfill in July and August found a five per cent failure rate, and plans are underway at Metro Vancouver to begin testing of older ash dumped there over the past two years.

Gaetz said in light of Metro Vancouver’s move to re-test older samples by a new lab “the public should question whether this is simply a case of testing repeatedly in order to get the desired result, rather than a determination of the true toxicity of the waste.”

The FVRD insists that problems related to toxic ash and its concerns about air quality will continue as long as Metro Vancouver continues down its path to “old-fashioned waste management methods like incineration.”

Cache Creek Mayor John Ranta also wants to get to the bottom of the inconsistent test results, saying that he hasn’t yet seen compelling evidence that the lab is to blame.

“If the lab results are that inconclusive, that we can do a test, find it exceeds the limit, and do another test and find it passes, then what about all the other tests that have been done from 2000 to the present day saying it passed?” he asked

“Should we be re-testing that and maybe find that some would fail?”

Ranta also wondered if the samples to be re-tested are different in any way from the originals that failed.

The environment ministry has so far taken the position that none of the fly ash needs to be removed from the Cache Creek landfill.

Metro Vancouver is currently sending incinerator fly ash to a hazardous waste disposal facility in Alberta.

But Gaetz said it is concerning that the ministry has yet to require removal of the incinerator ash that was dumped at the Cache Creek landfill.

“In matters of public health, one would expect the ministry of environment to err on the side of caution and remove the suspect ash from the landfill,” she said.

Cadmium, a carcinogen, is found throughout the waste stream, and is “stabilized” by treatment of incinerator fly ash so it doesn’t leach into the environment.

Fraser Valley politicians, including Chilliwack MLA John Les, oppose Metro’s plan to build a waste-to-energy facility that would burn 370,000 tonnes of waste per year – 30 per cent more than the Burnaby incinerator.

Shipping ash to a landfill near Hinton, Alberta, is costing Metro an extra $50 per tonne, potentially adding up to an extra $500,000 per year, if it continues indefinitely.

Henderson said Metro wants Covanta, operator of the Burnaby incinerator, to pay the extra costs.

Covanta is one of the expected bidders in Metro’s procurement process for waste-to-energy facilities that got underway this fall.

– with files by Jeff Nagel

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