BROOKFIELD, N.S.—Lydia Sorflaten flips through decade-old clippings showing how she and her neighbours stopped a nearby cement plant from burning tires at a kiln 500 metres from their tranquil Nova Scotia lake.
But there’s a news report on top of the pile from earlier this month that confirms their fight isn’t over.
“It’s very discouraging,” the 72-year-old says as she sits at neighbour Ken Warren’s dining room table, stacks of studies piled high.
“The people spoke. Where’s the memory? How is this happening again?”
The provincial Environment Department recently approved a one-year pilot project that will allow Lafarge Canada Inc. to use scrap tires for fuel in its Brookfield, N.S., factory.
Just weeks earlier, the province’s waste diversion corporation, Divert NS, also confirmed it’s shifting distribution of at least 280,000 scrap tires a year from a recycler to Lafarge, a French multinational that will receive a provincial subsidy of about $1.05 per tire.
The two decisions have reignited a dormant Canadian debate over the safety of the emissions from tire burning and the wisdom of incinerating rubber for industrial fuels, rather than recycling a spent product.
The Lafarge plant is a few minutes drive from Sorflaten’s home. Inside, manager Frederic Bolduc says he expects test results will show burning tires in the kiln will produce fewer greenhouse gases and pollutants than burning coal and petroleum coke.
During a tour of the cement plant, he points to the kiln where air temperatures exceeding 2,000 C transform powdered stone into molten rock.
“From our experience, air (pollution) emissions are lower than from other fuels we’re using,” says the mechanical engineer.
However, tire burning was dealt a blow a decade ago by environmental groups arguing the opposite.
In 2008, a Lafarge proposal similar to the one for Brookfield was met with stiff opposition from the residents of Bath, Ont., including the rock band Tragically Hip and lead singer Gord Downie. Lafarge backed down after losing a legal battle.
And just last year, Ontario passed a regulation bluntly stating the province’s waste diversion program “shall not promote” tire burning.
In Nova Scotia, opposition to tire incineration led to a private member’s bill from the then-opposition Liberals that would have banned the practice in 2008. However, the legislation was never proclaimed law.
In Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon and New Brunswick, there is currently no burning of scrap tires, according to the Canadian Association of Tire Recycling Agencies.
Meanwhile, in British Columbia, tire burning has declined since 1991, from 75 per cent of the total number of scrap tires to just 13 per cent today, according to Rosemary Sutton, director of Tire Stewardship B.C.
Nova Scotia’s decision to go ahead with the latest Lafarge project has drawn a frustrated reaction from both the region’s largest environmental group and the province’s sole tire recycler, which had a contract to shred most of the approximately one million old tires available.
The firm received a subsidy of about $2 per tire, which it used along with its own money to develop a market for aggregate that can substitute for gravel in road beds and other construction.
Mike Chassie, vice president of Halifax C and D Recycling, said he’s worried that Divert NS’s decision to shift to the burning option will mean he’s short on supply.
“We think recycling is the best thing for this product,” he said in an interview. “This (burning) is bad for business. It’s bad for recycling. It’s bad for the community.”
However, the CEO of non-profit Divert NS, Jeff MacCallum, says creating competition for the recycling firm will help drive down costs and help keep consumer recycling fees from increasing.
“We didn’t want all our eggs in one basket,” he said.
It’s not a perspective the citizens group agrees with.
“How do you measure expense? Is it in dollars and cents, or in the health of the environment?” says Fred Blois, a 74-year-old who has joined Sorflaten in the community effort to stop the project.
The group says cancer-causing dioxans and furans are formed from burning the chlorine in old tires. It argues that there’s no scientific consensus on safe levels of such emissions.
However, Lafarge executive Rob Cumming says independent testing has shown that dioxin and furan emissions coming out of the kiln’s stack will be below levels that may be harmful to human health.
Also, the province’s Environment Department says it will verify the testing over the next year.
Cumming said he’s hopeful that the year-long testing program, which has yet to secure a start date, will succeed in persuading the community there’s solid science behind the proposal.
Mark Parent, the former environment minister who oversaw the decision a decade ago to reject Lafarge’s first tire-burning proposal, said the Liberal government’s recent decision to go ahead is contrary to a philosophy that all political parties had once supported.
“When you burn tires, when you can be recycling them, you take a step back from that vision and move back in the past,” he said. “That’s what really bothers me.”