Water Board Dampens Iqaluit's Burning Desire

IQALUIT, Nunavut, Canada, January 15, 2001 (ENS) - A northern Canadian town under assault from persistent organic pollutants has been told to drastically reduce burning at its overflowing dump.

The growing town of Iqaluit, home to 3,600 people and the capital of Canada's newest territory Nunavut, is struggling to deal with a mounting waste problem.

dump burn

Smoke clearly visible from burning at Iqaluit's dump. (Photo by Valerie Connell, courtesy Nunatsiaq News)
Noxious clouds of smoke emanate from Iqaluit's dump, which simply burns the town's waste in the open. A local daycare was forced to bring its children indoors and close all the windows on one of the sunniest days of the short summer season last year, because of the fumes.

The persistent organic pollutants (POPs) formed when the town's wastes are burned are part of a larger problem.

Canada's far north is particularly vulnerable to the semi-volatile toxic chemicals commonly known as POPs.

After their release into the environment, POPs such as DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) travel in multiple cycles of evaporation, transported by air and condensation.

Called the grasshopper effect, this process allows POPs to quickly travel great distances. In the cold climate of the Canadian Arctic, low evaporation rates trap POPs, allowing them to enter the food chain.

Scientific evidence shows levels of PCBs in the blood of some Inuit women are higher than Health Canada guidelines, and levels of certain POPs in breast milk have been found up to nine times higher than in women who live in southern Canada.

In a new three year licence handed out last week, the Nunavut Water Board outlined limitations to burning at the dump that could mean changes to the way garbage is collected in Iqaluit.


Inuit mother and children may have higher than normal blood levels of persistent organic chemicals. (Photo courtesy the North-West Company)
Under the conditions of the 19-page document, the Town of Iqaluit, as of June 1, 2001 must restrict burning at the dump to food wastes, paper products, paperboard packaging and untreated wood.

Iqaluitís director of engineering and public works Matthew Hough said that means Iqaluit may have to change the way it collects and disposes of garbage within the next six months.

"That basically is telling us to separate household waste," Hough said.

Hough said the restrictions on burning may be difficult if not impossible to comply with.

They would require either going through the garbage piece by piece at the dumpsite, which Hough said would be dangerous, or having residents and businesses separate their garbage before pickup.

The restriction would prohibit burning the plastic bags in which most people put their garbage for collection, he said.

The licence limits burning to times when the temperature is below 15 Celsius (59 Fahrenheit), and when the smoke plume is not blowing into town or endangering the fuel tank farm.


Map of Nunavut shows the capital, Iqaluit, in the lower right on southern Baffin Island. (Map courtesy nunavut.com)
Hough said there is a "very formal" process to appeal the boardís decisions if there are conditions the Town is unable to comply with. The Town has asked its lawyer to review the licence.

By this fall, the Town is expecting to have an incinerator operating, bringing an end to open burning. The water board licence requires the Town to create a contingency plan in case the incinerator is not in place as soon as planned.

In addition to the burn limitations, the licence calls for the Townís sewage treatment plant to be operational by August 1.

An inspection report on the sewage lagoon is required by Nov. 1.

"Although itís a very work-intensive licence, itís not necessarily anything we didnít expect," Hough said.

"We can work with this. Itís going to be a lot of work, but we can work with it."

Published in cooperation with Nunatsiaq News: http://www.nunatsiaq.com/nunavut/index.html