Air quality gets green light at Cheakamus 

Data shows no link between asphalt plant and poorer air quality

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - NO IMPACT RMOW data shows no link between the asphalt plant and poorer air quality.
  • file Photo
  • NO IMPACT RMOW data shows no link between the asphalt plant and poorer air quality.

Though it may smell otherwise, the asphalt plant at Cheakamus Crossing is not impacting the surrounding air quality in any "statistically significant" way, according to data for the past four years.

"We really expected that those two things would be related," said James Hallisey, manager of environmental projects, referring to the operation of the asphalt plant and the air quality in the neighbourhood.

But the data shows otherwise.

The only time Cheakamus Crossing was above provincial air quality guidelines was during the forest fire smoke event in July this year.

For the past five years Whistler has been monitoring air quality at Cheakamus Crossing in response to neighbourhood complaints about the operational asphalt plant.

In recent years, the plant has been operating about 25 days a year, blanketing the neighbourhood in noxious air.

The municipality has been monitoring PM2.5, small particulate matter up to 2.5 micrometres in size, which generally comes from combustion. PM2.5 is used as a proxy, explained Hallisey, to monitor things that people are concerned about such as VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds.

The results show that for the past four years, Cheakamus Crossing has been sitting near or below the halfway mark of where the provincial standards are set.

"These are some of the strictest standards in the world," added Hallisey.

The air quality monitoring at Cheakamus and Meadow Park in Alpine follow similar patterns, though Meadow Park is slightly better when it comes to air quality.

There could be a host of reasons for that said Hallisey, noting things like traffic patterns.

Until now, the municipality had been using equipment loaned from the provincial Ministry of Environment. That equipment is now needed for other programs.

At the Sept. 1 meeting council approved $50,000 to buy new air quality monitoring equipment for Cheakamus Crossing that will monitor PM10, particulate matter connected to dust. The plan is to stop monitoring for PM2.5.

From a suggestion by Councillor Sue Maxwell, staff will now look at buying equipment that can monitor both, if possible.

Councillor Steve Anderson suggested the air quality station at Meadow Park be moved to Cheakamus so that Whistler had just one air quality station.

Staff agreed to look into that.

In the end however, Anderson was the lone councilor to vote against the grain, when council approved the expenditure for new equipment.

Landfill monitoring gets clean bill

There are no environmental red flags leaching into the water or the air from the 350,000 tonnes of waste buried at Whistler's old landfill.

"That's all still there and we're obligated to take care of that," said Hallisey.

The landfill, which lies underneath the gravel soccer fields at Cheakamus Crossing, has been closed for eight years now with the municipality required to monitor the surrounding groundwater, surface water and landfill gas.

Hallisey presented the results on that monitoring to council at Tuesday's meeting.

When it comes to groundwater, Whistler is testing for certain things such as ammonia that may exceed the provincial standards.

Higher levels of cobalt were found in the groundwater, but the same was true upstream of the landfill, too.

Surface water also found to have higher levels of copper and cobalt at the closest testing point downstream from the landfill. These levels were not found further downsteam.

The consultants recommended no further action, just ongoing monitoring, based on these results.

Methane gas was detected twice in the past year, prompting a response for the municipality to increase the "vacuum" system, pulling the methane toward the flaring station where it is burned off.

"That problem dissipated within three days," said Hallisey.

The municipality is required to monitor the old landfill site for at least 25 years.

Despite the positive results of the past year, Hallisey added: "We've still got a long way to go before we can relax on that side of things."


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