The prospect of burning discarded tires in a cement kiln doesn’t pass the smell test for Diane Redden.
The multimedia artist from Middle Stewiacke is not alone.
“I am really quite confused as to why they would be allowing this to happen,” Redden said after a meeting in Stewiacke on Wednesday night to discuss the province’s approval of a tire-burning pilot project at the Lafarge cement plant near Brookfield.
“The company has been denied twice before. What’s the difference this time? Environmentally, I feel like it’s a really backward step to allow it. I’m not a scientist but it just seems to be common knowledge that burning tires is one of the worst things you can do for air quality and we already have a recycling company here locally, within an hour’s drive that can take care of the tires in a safe manner.”
Nearly 30 people clambered into the Stewiacke legion to hear concerned citizen Lydia Sorflaten, author and longtime social and environmental activist Silver Donald Cameron, Mark Butler of the Ecology Action Centre and Mike Chassie, vice-president of C&D Recycling, speak about Environment Minister Iain Rankin’s sign-off on the tire-burning venture a week ago.
“Old cement kilns are not meant to burn tires,” said Sorflaten, 72, who has lived on Shortts Lake for 35 years in the shadow of the Pleasant Valley plant that is located about four kilometres from Brookfield.
“Just because you can’t see ’em doesn’t mean they are not there,” Sorflaten said of the carcinogenic dioxins and furans that she expects the kiln-burnt tires to push into the air and disperse as far as 100 kilometres from the plant.
Sorflaten and her husband Allan live about a half-kilometre from the plant, the closest residents to the Colchester County cement operation that opened in September 1965. The Sorflatens have been down this road before.
The plant has three times applied to burn tires in its kiln. The last effort was scuttled a decade ago when then Progressive Conservative environment minister Mark Parent turned down the company’s application.
“We went through the whole thing 10 years ago,” Sorflaten said. “They started it up this time and there is no change except the plant is 10 years older.”
Sorflaten and a group of about a half-dozen engaged lake citizens did their homework 10 years ago and presented their case to the Environment Department. The homework included a power-point presentation by resident Emily Kierstead and a paper prepared by Allan Sorflaten and researched by the couple’s daughter, Louisa, as part of a PhD program.
The citizens’ review urged a full environmental assessment to determine the impacts of burning tires.
“The absence of whole-tire research indicates that the process as it applies to whole tires is a scientific non-starter,” Sorflaten said, reading from the paper.
Lafarge’s application is for burning tires whole, not shredded tires. Burning whole tires creates more poisonous emissions than does the burning of shredded tires or tire chips, the paper says.
Even with the use of shredded tires, the citizens’ review found that tire combustion can lead to malfunctions in cement plant kiln stability. Researchers identified rings that form on the inside surface of the kiln that result in blockages or kiln upsets that lead to increased stack emissions, increased levels of toxic heavy metals emitted into the atmosphere, elevated sold waste ash levels and higher levels of dioxins.
The review also concluded that the plant would require updates and complete modernization to be considered for shredded tire burning.
The government of the day took the advice of the citizens committee but a decade later, Rankin provided the company an environmental assessment approval.
“My decision is based on the science and evidence associated with this application as well as public feedback received, which helped to shape the conditions of the approval,” Rankin said in giving the one-year Lafarge pilot project the green light.
The project, which is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the plant by replacing some of the coal burned in the kiln with tires, has to meet conditions that include limiting tire fuel to 15 per cent of the daily input and no more than 20 tonnes a day.
“I’m a regulator,” Rankin said after cabinet met Thursday. “I have to take my job as environment minister very seriously and look at the evidence in any application. That’s purely what it is, science and evidence in the application based on what Dalhousie had provided from their engineering team.”
Rankin’s decision spurned the efforts of current cabinet colleague Keith Colwell, who introduced an amendment to the Environment Act in November 2008 that prohibited the burning of tires in the province with a penalty upon conviction of $500 for each tire burned. The amendment passed third reading but never received royal assent from the lieutenant-governor to pass it into law.
Colwell said Thursday that he is satisfied that the science produced by Dalhousie researchers supports the minister’s decision.
Butler said the government has made a wrong decision.
“Call your project a pilot and get yourself a scientist,” Butler said of what it takes to get something approved by the Environment Department. “This is phase 1, this is not a pilot.”
Cameron told the group in Stewiacke that the fight against tire burning must continue.
“In conservation battles, you have to win them over and over again,” Cameron said. “You only have to lose once.”
And then the damage is done, he said, whether it be burning tires or clearcutting.
The company will spend several million dollars on upgrades to allow handling of the tires and to construct a conveyor belt that will carry the tires from ground level to above the kiln, where they will be dropped on a weight feeder into the burner.
Robert Cumming, environment director for Lafarge Canada, said the plant will see a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions for every tonne of coal replaced.
There are about one million tires discarded every year in the province. Divert Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit corporation that is at arm’s-length from government, picks up the $4.50 per tire environmental fee that Nova Scotia consumers pay at the store. Through its tire management program, Divert had been paying a $200 per tonne fee to C&D Recycling in Goodwood for taking the discarded tires and shredding them into aggregate that can be used for highways, retaining walls, drainage, foundation backfilling and other products.
Lafarge’s bid landed the cement company 30 per cent of the province’s discarded tires over a five-year period. The company will be paid $105 per tonne by Divert to take the 300,000 tires each year.
The Lafarge deal means less money for the recycler, less product to make aggregate and less recycling.
Chassie said C&D employs about 60 people and that tire recycling constitutes about a quarter of its business.
“Nova Scotia has always prided itself on being on the forefront of recycling and it’s proven that recycling cannot compete with burning,” Chassie said. “If everybody could just bury the material, then there would be no point in trying to recycle it because it costs more. You can make the same case for burning tires versus recycling tires. Recycling tires costs more. You handle the material more, it doesn’t just go up in a flash, disappear in a 1,600-degree Celsius burner.”
Chassie said the recycling business and industry makes sense.
“This is an industry that creates jobs and it creates a recycled resource material that can be used to replace traditional aggregates and save taxpayers and contractors money.”
In attendance at the Stewiacke meeting, Gary Burrill, leader of the NDP, decried the lack of public participation in the tire-burning decision.
“It’s a dense, dumb and stupid, asinine proposal,” Burrill said.
Cumming has said it will be early 2018 before the company is ready to burn tires at the plant and the minister said a temporary industrial approval will be required before tires are dropped into the kiln.
In the meantime, the Stewiacke gathering mulled next steps.
“There are only two routes to take,” Cameron said, pointing to legal action or civil disobedience.
The group hopes to present a petition with more than 2,000 signatures on it to the minister next week.
Sorflaten circled back to the three Rs.
“Reduce, recycle, reuse. Burning does not fit.
“The people of Nova Scotia matter. We have a right to clean air.”