Burning Issue Consumes Northern Canadian Town

IQALUIT, Nunavut, Canada, September 5, 2000 (ENS) - 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.

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Smoke clearly visible from burning at Iqaluit's dump. (Photo by Valerie Connell, courtesy Nunatsiaq News)
Noxious clouds of smoke currently 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 recently, because of the fumes.

The persistent organic pollutants formed when the town's wastes are burned are part of a larger problem. These toxics migrate to the Arctic from southern communities and have been measured at higher levels in the blood of Arctic residents than in the blood of their fellow Canadians in the south.

People camping near the causeway in Iqaluit are concerned about the effects of the smoke.

"When it starts smelling and smoking we don't hang around here," said Hannah Stoney, a woman camping with her family close to the dump.

Something must be done soon, according to Matthew Hough, Iqaluit's project coordinator and development officer, who doubts the town can continue burning its solid waste in the open past the end of next summer.

To deal with the problem, the Iqaluit steering commitee on waste managment is recommending a system that combines a new landfill site and an incinerator.

The recommendations are contained in a 92 page draft waste management plan discussed at a public meeting in Iqaluit last week.

The study found a new incinerator would cost C$3.7 million (US$2.5 million) to build and $250,000 to $500,000 a year to operate. The study also found a new dump would cost $590,000 to build and $175,000 to operate. (All amounts are in Canadian dollars.)

It makes no final recommendations on where these proposed new facilities might be located, but suggests two areas, one known as the North 40, and the other around the end of the aptly named Road to Nowhere.

Members of the committee said they are concerned that the study's terms of reference had already been set before they came on board, and a waste comparison study was not part of the $220,000 study.

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Caribou forage on the edge of Iqaluit. (Photo courtesy Nunatsiaq News)
They said subjects such as recycling, composting, the composition of what is being burnt now, and alternative methods of waste reduction were not considered by consultants J.L. Richards and Associates of Kingston, Ontario.

"The actual cost [of the study] is $220,000, and the work isn't done yet," said Rick Butler, Iqaluit's chief administrative officer.

J.L. Richards has been hired to prepare the plan. Under the terms of its water licence, the Town of Iqaluit must produce a waste management plan that includes items such as the elimination of the open burning of garbage, waste reduction and recycling.

The Town's current water licence expires at the end of December this year. The Town had requested last year that its water licence expire after six years.

The Nunavut Water Board is scheduled to hold hearings in Iqaluit November 7 and 8 to discuss the renewal of the Town's water licence past December 31, 2000.

Butler said the final waste mangement report will include concerns raised at last week's steering committee meeting and a "few we have ourselves."

"Clarifying certain items, substantiating items" will also be included in the final waste management report, Butler said.

The committee said the study was a rehash of 10 year old information and that "Iqaluit has changed significantly in the past five years."

The arrival of Iqaluit's pop bottling plant, which produces large quantities of plastic soft drink bottles, is one recent change noted by the committee, which noted that the open burning of garbage has to stop.

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Map of Nunavut shows the capital, Iqaluit, in the lower right on southern Baffin Island. (Map courtesy nunavut.com)
"It's clear that open burning is not supported by the community at large nor is it being contemplated by the municipality. If wastes are to be burned, they will be incinerated at high temperatures under controlled conditions in compliance with applicable regulations," wrote J.L. Richards in a letter sent to committee member Marcel Mason.

Committee members Lynn Peplinski and Mason said items such as recycling and waste reduction are not covered well in the draft report.

However, Butler said recycling is a whole other "big issue."

"We don't plan going to consultants," Butler said when talking about recycling items like plastic, aluminum, glass and paper. "We're doing it ourselves. There's lots of community members passionate about getting on with it."

Butler said finding ways to have these items sent south for recycling, and the recycling of heat from an incinerator to warm buildings around this chilly town are being considered as part of the waste management plan.

"It's all these other waste items that should not be burned," Butler said. He said with a good recycling program "we won't need as big an incinerator, won't need as big a landfill."

The committee found that if an incinerator is not used, Iqaluit will need a gigantic landfill site to accomodate all the garbage that the community produces.

"I don't know where, short of blasting a mountain, we'd put a hole the size of Apex around here," said Peplinski, a member of the steering committee.

Waste management systems are not recommended in places near recreation areas, the report says, but both areas recommended, in the North Forty and along the Road to Nowhere, are used extensively as recreational areas.

Project coordinator Hough said the plan must include the cleanup of long term refuse, including junk left by the U.S. Air Force in the early 1950s.

Iqaluit Mayor Jimmy Kilabuk, who chaired the meeting said on recent trips to Greenland he heard about the successful use of incineration systems to burn refuse and the recycling of heat from incinerators to heat buildings.

Incineration systems are used successfully in the South, but they need to be adapted to fit the north, Butler said.

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