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Air quality downplayed

To the editor:

I have been following news stories of the new biomass boiler with great interest. I’m quite impressed by all the positive reportage on the subject.

I can see the obvious advantages this boiler will bring to both the mill and the community at large. In fact, I’ve been a strong supporter for years of finding a use for the waste products of logging that ordinarily would end up rotting in the bush.

I really hate to rain on everyone’s parade; however, I do have one concern that I’d like to see openly discussed in relation to the proposed location of said boiler.

I have noticed that during all the hype, there has been minimal discussion around the subject of air quality.

I looked carefully at last Thursday’s article/press release to see who was in attendance at the announcement that the project had been approved. While at least one provincial ministry was represented at the news conference, I found it a little disquieting that nobody from the Ministry of Environment appeared to be present.

It is unfortunate that after all the layers of hype are peeled back, what has been proposed—and now agreed to by various governments—is, in reality, a giant incinerator stuck smack dab in the middle of town.

I have enough knowledge of rudimentary thermodynamics to understand the need to have the boiler situated as close to where the steam is required as possible, in order to minimize heat loss. It is understandable why the mill would desire to situate the boiler at the chosen location because that site is ideal for their purposes.

Despite acknowledging the advantages of this location, I also know that running steam lines underground for significant distances also can be accomplished, with manageable heat losses, as seen in Toronto, where steam lines run beneath the streets for blocks between the steam-generating plant and the office buildings that it heats.

I find it amusing that the good citizens of Fort Frances have been prevented for years from burning a few cubic meters of dead leaves in the fall because this habit was seen to degrade the air quality of our neighbourhoods.

Many municipalities also have banned outside wood-fired boilers for the same reason.

Yet, “Presto!” We have been presented with a hulking great woodstove—signed, sealed, and soon to be delivered three short blocks from Portage and Scott. Only, this particular woodstove just happens to also burn some unpleasant-sounding substance called “sludge,” which no doubt contains any number of exotic chemical compounds just ripe for “a good old fry up.”

How many metric tonnes did they say were going to be burned very year? How many tonnes of particulate will go into the air we breath as a result?

I’m sure you also noticed the proposed building has an enormous smoke stack. Well, folks, they didn’t design the stack that way to look pretty. Sure, I know it will have all the latest scrubbers and purifiers. Well, if it were just leaves, twigs, and bark being burned, I might just buy into the corporate line, but come on, folks, “sludge” across from the jail? A block from the town hall, down the street from the clinic?

Please give me a break!

As it stands now, the air quality downtown some days is downright deplorable. Has anyone bothered to consult with all stakeholders (like, for instance, the hospital) about the long-term effects of dumping tonnes of combustion products into the atmosphere a few hundred feet from the primary district hospital?

You know, that big building on Victoria—the same place where all of the babies are born from throughout the district.

I’m wondering if anyone in elected office cared enough to ask what will be the effects on hospital staff, many of whom work there 12 hours at a time? Has consideration been taken for the long-term effects on the residents of C.C.U.

Has anyone consulted with the Lung Association? The district already has a higher-then-normal rate of lung-related diseases. Will another increase in asthma and C.O.P.D. be the price we pay for greater prosperity?

As I’ve stated before, I believe the “biomass boiler” is a good thing for the district, but surely there must be a more suitable site for the thing than the one currently proposed.

In the end, it will come down to a simple equation: efficiency vs. quality of life. What will we choose?

Respectfully yours,

W.D. Erwin

Fort Frances, Ont.

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