SPALLUMCHEEN - Palisades Mobile Home Park resident Beverly Anderson first experienced what she calls a “soot storm” shortly after she moved in last year.
“My first mistake was we went out and left all the windows open. When I came back in it was like a dust storm all over my floor, and my cupboards,” she says. “It’s gets on everything.”
The soot comes from a massive pile of ash about 200 feet away at Tolko Industries’ co-generation plant. While the dust is particularly noticeable on windy days, Anderson says the effects are daily.
“The outside of the house always looks dirty. The windowsills are covered in it, because it gets in anyway,” she says.
When the wind is blowing she can’t sit by an open window without feeling grit on her face or go outside, she says. The soot gets into her car, patio furniture and home which require constant cleaning. Falling property values are also a concern for residents.
More worrying is the unknown health effects of breathing in the dust, she says. Shortly after moving in her two kids developed coughs and can’t seem to shake them.
“It doesn’t make sense, they’re not sick like that all the time,” she says. “You don’t know what to think. It makes you wonder, what’s in it (the soot)? Is there metals in it? Chemicals? We inhale it on a daily basis.”
She notified bylaw about the problem in the summer of 2014, and emailed Tolko without response.
Now the Ministry of Environment has stepped in and requested an action plan from Tolko outlining how it will resolve the issue. In an email, the Ministry of Environment said an Operations and Closure plan for the landfill was submitted by Tolko May 19. Ministry staff are now reviewing it and plan to visit the site next week.
"In the interim Ministry staff have directed Tolko to take immediate measures to minimize inconvenience to the public," the Ministry stated.
Repeated requests for an interview with Tolko spokesperson Don Hanson about what measures the company is taking were denied. Instead, an email was sent stating the company has initiated both short and long-term solutions.
For now, Tolko is wetting down the ash before it goes to the landfill area, Hanson said in the email. The company is also covering as much of the ash as possible with sawmill byproduct to keep the dust down, and adding gravel to the road to reduce dust.
In the long-term, Hanson said the company is working to reduce, and possibly eliminate the pile, by working with industrial and agricultural partners who could use the ash. He said trials are already in place.
(Fast forward to the 50 second mark to see a cloud of soot blow of the pile)
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—This story was updated at 5 p.m. May 21 to include information from the Ministry of Environment.