The expense of 24-hour monitoring at Ebco’s South Surrey galvanizing plant to determine if emissions are connected to health issues being experienced by its neighbours “would be an inappropriate use of society’s resources,” Metro Vancouver’s district director said Friday.
Ray Robb made the comment in response to questions from Terry McNeice, who is one of the appellants contesting the air-quality permit that was issued by Metro Vancouver to Ebco nearly two years ago. The permit authorized the annual discharge of 3.7 tonnes of contaminants – including zinc, nickel and particulates – from the facility.
McNeice was referring to health issues raised in testimony last year by Inga Thielemann, who has lived with her husband since 1971 on acreage that is now less than a kilometre from where Ebco built its 18699 25A Ave. hot-dip facility. She told the three-member Environmental Appeal Board (EAB) last April that she had experienced symptoms including trouble breathing when the plant was in operation.
On Friday – after posing questions to Robb regarding the tanks used at the plant and the chemicals likely being used in them – McNeice asked if there were options for continuous monitoring that could determine exactly what contaminants were in a plume “other than steam” that could be seen in photos of the plant that had been submitted by appellants.
Robb said a sampling drone would be needed to collect the emissions, and that the resources associated with the constant monitoring that would be required to determine what, if any, emissions could be at the root of Thielemann’s health concerns would be “enormous” and “totally disproportionate” to the level of threat.
“If I had all the money in the world… I’m not sure it would make sense to focus on this source,” Robb said. “There’s other more probable sources connected with whatever ailments the Thielemanns might experience.
“It would be millions of dollars to find out where this stuff is coming out, where is it going. And then, what do you do when you find out?”
When McNeice suggested that the response was Metro Vancouver “basically… just telling the Thielemanns to put up with it,” Robb said it was more about encouraging resources to be focused where they will help the most.
Additional pollution control, he said, “is where it makes sense to spend the money.”
The panel heard earlier this week that Ebco is in the midst of applying for a permit that would enable it to increase the number of baghouses in use at its facility to three from two. As well, Metro Vancouver witnesses testified the facility was – based on data comparing its emissions last year to others in the region that have been authorized to discharge contaminants – a “relatively small emitter.”
Thursday, Metro Vancouver senior engineer Rob Kemp described the baghouses as within the guidelines for ‘best available control technology.’
Asked if other options were considered, Kemp – who conducted the technical review of the baghouses’ proposed use by Ebco – said no other guidelines that he reviewed suggested another control technology for particulate matter. Other galvanizing facilities he looked at in the process also used baghouses, he said.
In response to questions from area resident Sonja Kroecher, Kemp agreed that the regulatory process that has surrounded Ebco’s air-quality permit is “unusual.”
The company first applied for a permit, then for a short-term approval. The approval was granted, then stayed by the EAB after residents raised concerns about the potential impact to human health and the environment.
The approval expired over the course of the stay, after which Ebco again applied for a permit, which was granted in March 2018.
Kemp confirmed it is the only air-quality application he has dealt with in his three years at Metro that involved a temporary approval and a stay. But while he agreed the process has been unusual, he said the application itself is not.
Regarding the permit’s 2033 expiry date, Kemp said it was a term that Ebco asked for, and that “I didn’t disagree with their rationale.”
He confirmed that visiting the site was not part of his review.
Kemp said he was not aware of a request for 24/7 monitoring of the facility, but that he was aware that there had been complaints about it.
Asked if he’d been involved in any similar appeals, Kemp pointed to just one other, also in South Surrey – that of the permit issued in 2017 to Weir Canada for its rubber plant at 18933 34A Ave.
The EAB hearing regarding Ebco began last April. This month marks five years since residents first raised their concerns.
The bylaw regulating the site for “light impact industry” was approved by Surrey council in November 2012.
It allowed for “an industrial use which is enclosed within a building and is not offensive by reason of smoke, vibration, smell, toxic fumes, electrical interference and produces no significant noise which in any way interferes with the use of any contiguous lot.”
Ebco officials have maintained that the emissions are “not a danger to anyone.”
The EAB panel is expected to hear evidence from some of those officials in April.
Other areas discussed this week included fugitive emissions – those not caught by control methods, nor authorized to be emitted.
Ebco’s proposed third baghouse is to assist with better emission collection, Robb said, in response to questions from Metro counsel Susan Rutherford.
He said his concern lies with emissions from the zinc kettle used in the facility, where there is potential for air contaminants to be released. It’s “where I would think it’s worthwhile to improve the enclosure or improve the suction inside that area,” he said.
Metro’s role as a regulator, he noted in response to appellant Dianne Orringe, is not to recommend how to deal with identified issues, but rather to “advise people if there are issues and ask them to propose solutions.”
Appellant Bill Ridge suggested that the money spent on the EAB hearing could be better spent on “testing and redoing things so this (appeal) wouldn’t be necessary.”
In response, Robb said he didn’t know the data that would result “would help you at all.”
“We’re not going to be able to draw that much in conclusion.”
Appellant Phillip Milligan said he couldn’t see how emissions from Ebco – which would total more than 55 tonnes over the term of the permit – wouldn’t have an impact on the surrounding area.
“From a watershed point of view, it’s going to have an impact as time goes on,” he said. “We don’t want to get to that point… that these little streams get polluted so bad that they die off.”
The hearing is being held at the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel. It is to reconvene in April.