For a Children’s Environmental Health specialist, reading the more than 200-page RWDI Consulting Engineers & Scientists report on the November 2014 three-day test burn of the Kearns “Disintegrator” unit is like watching network news coverage of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina – equal parts horror and fascination, anger and sympathy.
Let’s start with the horror. Of the nine parameters assessed within the emissions stack (chimney), the Kearns unit only met Canadian and provincial guidelines or standards for mercury, hydrochloric acid and a small fraction of all the possible organics (carbon-based compounds).
Total particulate matter exceeded Ontario standards by 86 times and there is no indication of size of particle released to the environment, ultra fine particulate matter (UFPM) being the most dangerous to health because it can reach deep into lungs for rapid transport into the bloodstream. Only a third of the elements of the periodic table were tested for, but of those, cadmium (Cd) and lead (Pb) were above a safe level by 25 times. Highly toxic dioxins and furans were 200 times the safety standard. Deadly carbon monoxide was over by two and a half times but nitric oxide only by half.
Even though RDWI is careful to note that these numbers “do not represent concentrations in the community or surrounding environment”, thinking of how the concerns of local residents going back as far as early April were ignored inspires no small amount of frustration.
While properly channeled anger can be a catalyst for positive change, it’s difficult to know where to direct it in this case.
At John Kearns for having such blind faith in his own invention and such little knowledge of ecosystem health that he believed his own promotional material and deemed pollution control measures unnecessary?
At Elected Council for not bringing in a third party who understood the community’s special relationship with the land to do comprehensive baseline testing and continuous environmental monitoring at the very beginning of the process, using state-of-the-art equipment and methods within a framework of traditional decision-making?
At RDWI for not implementing proper safety precautions for residents during the three-day testing period in November 2014? For taking almost three weeks to submit a report that added only seven pages of useless text to nearly 200 pages of results from an outsourced lab (Maxxam Analytics) and still somehow failing to measure what matters to environmental health? For having the audacity to ask for more money to come back and do the environmental contextualization work they should have done in the first round?
At manufacturers of low-quality, disposable material objects of questionable value that are needlessly shrouded in copious amounts of packaging in order to bedazzle consumers with misleading advertising?
At government for mortgaging the Earth in international trade deals and not requiring corporations to design and produce sustainable consumer products, complete with “Cradle-to-Cradle” lifespan planning? (A nod to William McDonough and Michael Braungart for their excellent “How To” manual by the same name.)
At healthcare professionals for failing to connect the dots between environment and health and not focusing on prevention by demanding standards and regulations that protect the public and not polluting industries?
At ourselves for buying into the broken system in the first place? This is where the sympathy comes in because there are no easy answers for anyone in this chain of responsibility and I don’t know if there ever were. There are only choices and how we make them. And this is the part I find fascinating.
Imagine what might happen if an entire community got into the business environmental health protection by implementing a series of low-risk, affordable and high-impact measures like increased participation in local decision-making, renewing the Treaties with other like-minded communities, doing their own monitoring and lab work, teaching environmental protection curriculum in schools (ex. Walking With Anowara by Turtle Island Conservation), starting environmental consulting firms, developing and manufacturing truly green technologies at home and making films and podcasts to reach, teach and collaborate.
Imagine putting the “eco” back in “economic development” and watch the anger disintegrate into hope for future generations.