First Nations near oilsands says full story not told
By Sheila Pratt, Edmonton Journal
Levels of three major pollutants in the oilsands region did not increase much in the past 15 years as open pit mining expanded, says a professor in the University of Alberta’s school of public health.
A study of 15 years of data beginning in 1998 shows only a “small” change in air quality in Fort McMurray and further north in the First Nations community of Fort McKay, Warren Kindzierski says.
The air quality in the northern communities compares favourably to the quality of air in big cities such Edmonton and Calgary, he said.
But Fort McKay First Nation said the study gives an incomplete picture of air quality problems because it only looks at only three pollutants — nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
Kindzierski said he studied those three key pollutants because air monitoring data on them goes back 15 years, giving a long-term picture of industrial development.
The increase in air pollution “is not large,” Kindzierski said.
In Fort McMurray, air quality is influenced by the city’s growth, an increasing number of vehicles, as well as nearby oilsands plants, Kindzierski said.
In Fort McKay, about 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, the small increase in pollution levels can be attributed to oilsands plants, of which there are 13 within a 70-km radius of the community, the study says.
Kindzierski’s research was published in the journal, Environment International.
“Small, increasing concentration trends were observed for nitrogen dioxide at Fort McKay and Fort McMurray over the period consistent with increasing emissions of oxides of nitrogen from industrial developments,” the study says.
Dan Stuckless, senior manager, environment and regulatory for Fort McKay, said the study is not necessarily reassuring to the community.
The community is subject to a larger array of air pollutants and is taking detailed measurements with a new Environment Canada station in the community, he said.
The U of A study also does not take into a count a “pollution event” that occurs when an oilsands plant has a temporary shutdown, called an “upset,” that can cause a spike over a shorter time, said Stuckless.
Kindzierski said there is no long-term data for such events nor for odour problems the community faces.
Asked how there could be so little change in a air pollution given the expansion of the industry, Kindzierski said the oilsands is in a large, open area and pollutants can disperse.
Kindzierski also said his study does not conflict with predictions, in a Shell environment report, that nitrogen dioxide emissions would exceed legal limits in some areas of Shell’s proposed Jackpine mine expansion goes ahead. The 2012 study was done for regulatory hearings.
Kindzierski’s study also noted over the 15 years, the levels of fine particulate matter exceeded provincial air quality standards about 100 times, almost entirely attributable to forest fires. In Fort Chipewyen, 300 km north of Fort McMurray, data showed no sign of pollution levels found in the other two communities.
“Air quality in Fort Chipewyan was much better and quite separate in terms of absence of factors influencing criteria air pollutant concentrations at the other community stations,” the study says.
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