Res­i­dents con­cerned about toxic air, soil

Regina Leader-Post - - Weather - By JEN SK­ER­RITT Win­nipeg Free Press

WIN­NIPEG — Af­ter years of hold­ing their breath and stay­ing in­doors to avoid thick clouds of smelter smoke, Flin Flon res­i­dents want to know whether metal pol­lu­tion is mak­ing them sick.

Flin Flon Mayor Tom The­rien said res­i­dents of the small town lo­cated 750 kilo­me­tres north­west of Win­nipeg on the Saskatchew­an border, have known for years that the com­mu­nity is con­tam­i­nated with pol­lu­tants from the nearby mine and smelter — they just didn’t know how bad it was.

A new Man­i­toba Con­ser­va­tion study re­veals the level of harm­ful met­als found in some of Flin Flon’s soil ex­ceeds the rec­om­mended guide­lines for cer­tain met­als and could pose a risk to hu­man health.

Of the 93 Flin Flon sites that were tested for ar­senic, a known car­cino­gen, 58 soil sam­ples ex­ceeded lev­els deemed safe for pub­lic health — in­clud­ing sam­ples from 16 play­grounds and one school­yard.

The re­port said the pol­lu­tants are ei­ther known or sus­pected emis­sions from HudBay Min­er­als Inc. Many of the town’s 6,200 res­i­dents work for the mine and smelter or own small com­pa­nies that de­pend on busi­ness from the mine.

Alan Hair, HudBay Min­er­als Inc. vice-pres­i­dent of me­tal­lurgy, safety and health, said the con­tami- na­tion is a re­sult of long-stand­ing “legacy” pol­lu­tion — met­als that have built up in the soil since the com­pany started op­er­a­tions in the 1930s.

The­rien said the soil re­port has prompted res­i­dents to form a 15-mem­ber com­mu­nity ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee that will help the prov­ince and HudBay Min­er­als look into the health ef­fects of po­ten­tial air, wa­ter and soil con­tam­i­na­tion from the smelter.

Stud­ies have shown the health re­gion which cov­ers Flin Flon, The Pas and sev­eral First Na­tions has an in­ci­dence rate of cer­tain can­cers and chronic con­di­tions like hy­per­ten­sion higher than the Man­i­toba av­er­age.

Hair said the smelter com­pany is weigh­ing how much it would cost to re­duce pol­lu­tion and how that com­pares to the $40 mil­lion of ore they plan to ex­ca­vate in Flin Flon this year alone.

“You’ve got to look at what’s tech­no­log­i­cally pos­si­ble and what’s eco­nom­i­cally pos­si­ble,” Hair said. “It’s not a sim­ple process.”

That has some res­i­dents wor­ried that the ben­e­fit of clean­ing up the town won’t out­weigh the cost.

“Ev­ery­body in the com­mu­nity knows there’s some­thing com­ing out of that stack,” said Deb Ode­gaard, head of Flin Flon’s en­vi­ron­men­tal coun­cil.

“(But) if the com­pany were to leave, we’d have very, very lit­tle, if any­thing, left here.”

Can­West files

Pol­luted air and soil from in­dus­trial emis­sions in Flin Flon, Man., such as those re­leased from smoke stacks, have res­i­dents con­cerned for their health.

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