REAL ESTATE AGENTS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW
... the dead trees are a great signifier of what peoples'
lungs could look like.
Sale: 3 bed riverside condo, aircon, 1050sq.ft, 50 metres from
Pulp and Paper Mill- emission levels for Nox, Sox, PM10s, PM2.5s
on request. $295,000
(Pets and children not advised)'
Come to Kitimat,
a better place to live and work.
to home, think of the riverside homes and apartments by the Fraser River,
nudging against the gates of the Scott Pulp and Paper Plant. Children
play, adults drink Cafe Latte or gamble at the Casino at New Westminster,
yet always in the background is the hiss of the mill operating 24 hours.
The residents of New West and Kitimat may not know that the major gaseous
emissions from these Mills are TRS (Total Reduced Sulphur, Oxides of Sulphur
(SOx), Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx) and PM10 (Particulate matter smaller than
10um). Yet, as poisonous as these emissions are, there is no federal or
provincial regulation for air emissions from pulp mills, nor indoor air
quality, nor ambient air quality. Permits are given by the Ministry of
the Environment which authorise mills to discharge contaminants into the
air. There are guidelines for safe emissions, but these are NOT legally
binding standards. (Emissions monitoring by the B.C. Ministry of the Environment
occurs at monthly, quarterly and annual intervals).
Going to Kitimat, situated on the Douglas Channel on Highway 37 should
be a great idea. The Chamber of Commerce boasts great fishing, hiking,
clean air, sailing, all the great outdoor pursuits. But, a bit like
Bladerunner - the movie, with its slogan Come
to the Off world for a better life the Chamber of Commerce website
doesnt bother to extol the virtues of the days when the air isnt
so clean. The mainstay of Kitimats job resources are Alcan Aluminium
Smelter, Methanex and Eurocan - Pulp and Paper (tours can be arranged
in summer). Nor do they mention that many trees stand dead behind the
Kitimat was once a peaceful native fishing village where a natural cycle
of life has continued for some time. Fishing, hunting, cold in winter,
not too hot in summer. No one ever really got rich and yet few really
ever went hungry, as long as they knew how to fish. Most people didnt
have to worry about mortgage payments either as they built the homes
they lived in and the land was practically free.
Kitimat isnt like that now. The folks who live there now probably
wouldnt want to live off the land and sea, they need the heat
in winter, the Diner for sustenance and of course the bars. (Sunday
Church is busy but in summer it's inconvenient and conflicts with sporting
activities or all that better life thats out there).
If you did go to Church theyd be ranting about how the rest of
the world has gone to hell and how the whores are sucking the life out
of the town. Apparently there are sex-workers (recreational personnel
), if you look, especially on pay day. But life is getting expensive
and when you have to buy a Dodge Durango or a Ford SUV to go with your
shotgun, well youre going to need a high paying job to pay for
The Eurocan Pulp and Paper provides jobs and if it doesnt then
Alcan do, or Methanex. Hard jobs, with risks, but high pay. Hard jobs
because that is how you define yourself, hard working, hard drinking.
The women go for it, you tell yourself and pretty soon, the debts, the
wife and kids, the mortgage is all yours and there you are, a wage slave
to to factory system at the edge of the world - in Kitimat, population
12,077 at the last count.
Of course most days your throat burns and your eyes water, but like
the rest of the locals, you just joke about it and saying your crying
money. The dead trees dont matter much, after all the other half
of the town earns its living clear-cutting trees for the Pulp Mill,
a bit of acid rain is only a small price to pay.
Kitimat would have been one of the healthiest places to live in Canada,
at one time. The first thing anyone will tell you is that they dont
want any strangers poking their noses into their lives, worrying about
a bit of smoke, this is where the jobs are and no one wants to jeopardise
this, the companies pay good and theres medical. The environment
is fine, people will tell you, the hills are just crawling with black
bears, but the same isnt true about grizzlies. Grizzlies need
a lot of cover and they are shy of open spaces. Clear-cutters dont
like to leave corridors for the bears to travel in and the grizzlies
are literally starving out there, their bones sticking out. But you
cant see them, unless they come raiding the garbage bins and then
they are a nuisance. Bit like the bums on Hastings in Vancouver, each
year there are few more and we tut-tut, say society is going to the
dogs, and its the same for the bears, each year a few more start
to starve and they are forced to eat garbage and face being shot. In
China they killed at the Tigers for their paws, in Canada could the
same thing happen to the wildlife - out of neglect?
Funny thing though, you hear this more from the wives of Kitimat than
the menfolk, but they can see their kids arent growing up healthy,
like the kids you see on the brochures or Dawsons Creek. Allegedly
many grow up with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, other kids
seem to have brittle bone disease and other skeletal problems, grown
women and some of the men suddenly grow rashes that cant be explained
and makes lifting or even moving your neck painful. This isnt
just a few, all the schools report that more and more kids are failing
to turn up for school, particularly in calm days when the smog builds
up over the town. In October flying over you could follow the smog trails
over the mountains for miles. (Many employees only work there for a
short period (say three-four years) and thus any subsequent health problems
that might occur from working in Kitimat are not reflected in the stats
The real problems come from microscopic particulates designated PM10,
a pollutant associated with heavy industry that penetrates the lung
very deep and cant be naturally filtered out. You can see the
effects of this most clearly if you travel in Eastern Europe where unchecked
heavy industry and a lack of regard for personal safety and free speech
has left a world full of people old before their time, tilling crops
in arid fields, having children with stunted growth and chronic lung
problems. Allegedly Kitimat has one of the higher concentrates of PM
10 in B.C., the dead trees are a great signifier of what peoples' lungs
could look like.
It makes interesting reading to discover that the EPA in the USA states
that only spills into the environment of 5000 pounds of aluminium sulphate
must be reported. (Must be convenient when you only have 4500 pounds
to accidentally spill into the river, rather than store it.(It happens
The allowable maximum concentrates of aluminium in the workplace air
of 15 milligrammes per cubic meter of air during an 8 hour shift in
a 40 hour week have been criticised as too high. The National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health recommend only 10 milligrammes per
meter of air. With good reason as lung and bone problems are a key health
hazard with workers at smelter plants. Exposure to aluminium in
the air may have respiratory problems, including coughing and asthma
from breathing dust.
Other sources cite aluminium absorbtion experiments using rabbits reveal
delays in skeletal and neurological development.
Aluminium poisoning has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease,
a progressive neurodegenerative disorder associated with dementia. Higher
concentrations of aluminium have been found in brain tissue of patients
dying of Alzheimer's disease. Occupational exposure also occurs in workers
exposed to aluminium in the work place. Coughing, increased phlegm production
and a sense of irritation are noted in this group of workers. Chronic
inhalation of fine aluminium dust or vapors has resulted in fibrosis
of the lung, asthma, dyspnea, cough and pneumothorax.
Science Officer at the National Poison Centre, University Sains Malaysia,
So you are thinking of buying a home in Kitimat? Wonder if the Real
Estate particulars mention any of this. What will the resale value be
if anyone ever finds out? Homes are fifty percent cheaper than Vancouver,
so there are bargains to be hard for sure. For a riposte to this piece
see Kitimat Safe
Strolling around Rocky Point by the wide shallow inlet to the other side,
one experiences a tightening of the throat. A glance across the inlet
reveals Port Moodys sulphur deposits, stored in the open at the
dockside, looking all neat and bright yellow, you cant miss it.
In a light breeze you can taste it. Well raw sulphur cant do much
harm, alright apply water and air you get sulphuric acid and it is out
in the open, but it is relatively inert (of course Id like to see
an environmental report on what happens to the wild life around there),
but more importantly, what happens to the people who paid more than $500,000
for the luxury houses they built on the hill overlooking the sulphur deposit.
Who is looking out for them? Do they not feel their throats constrict
as mine does, three kilometres away? Do not their children suffer or have
skin allergies? Has anyone done a cluster analysis in this region? Has
anyone tested the fish?
Alright, industry has to go on, Vancouver has grown and houses and apartment
buildings have started to appear when once factories and mills once stood.
Traffic has built up and the town is a real city now with over 2 million
people and the traffic to go with it (And watch out for PM 2.5 diesel
particulates that comes from traffic congestion).
It is time that these figures, particularly for PM10, to be included in
the property details when a home is up for sale or for rent. After all,
you wouldnt want your child to grow up with asthma or a bone disease.
Yes this would definitely result in property prices going down in some
areas, but there is an element of common sense here. If you buy next to
a factory of any kind, you can expect emissions. (What kind of emissions?
Well suspended particulates can include Carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide,
lead, PM10, sulphur dioxide, TRS, zinc, chlorine and chlorine dioxide.)
This list should be published in the local papers monthly so the taxpayers
can see what kind of hazard exists in their neighbourhood and I might
add that the figures need to be checked by independent and honest (unbribable)
If you want to know more there is a book Monitoring Pulp and
Paper Mills in British Columbia - A Citizens Handbook ISBN
No one is against industry, how would we exist if we all became librarians
or civil servants, but I question the wisdom of industry and people living
cheek by jowl, at least without some kind of warning label on the neighbourhood.
Would the folks of Kitimat love their jobs so much if they knew it was
likely that their children will be crippled or have alzheimers by the
age of 40. Would anyone chose to live by a Pulp Mill if they could read
the monthly emission report and understood its implications for
their health. Would you really want to raise kids there? People do, but
do they know the possible health problems?
According to a recent study done by World Health Organisation published
in the Lancet (A UK Medical Journal) 6% of all deaths in Switzerland,
France and Austria are caused by industrial fallout and PM10 and PM2.5
(traffic pollution) . The Friends of the Earth estimate that 19,000 deaths
a year occur in the UK from industrial fallout and the cost of hospitalisation,
medical care, lost jobs, broken families must total billions. (The UK
Ministry of Health's own figures put it between 12,000 and 22,000)
The West cannot continue to hide this problem. It has to chose, industry
has to change its ways. Developers cannot just build next to factories
and walk away without posting the pollution figures for the neighbourhood.
Canada and the USA must invest in safety and be open to scrutinity - the
cost of not doing so will be paid by our children and they will not thank
us if we ignore it and as for owning a Dodge Durango, they will think
you were insane.
May 2002: Following September 11th tragedy
in New York it is a positive sign that a group of companies has expressed
a willingness to move back to lower Manhattan to live and work. Proposals
are in for a mix of offices, housing, retail space and the all important
memorial to the terrorist attack. But each an every New Yorker living
in that area has lived with the most awful air quality these past months
and every New Yorker will be acutely aware of PM 10's and 2.5's right
now because their lungs are filled with potential lethal particulates.
So in the next eight years it will take to plan and build in this area,
the air quality will be affected for all of that time. How do you make
a judgement about moving in or investing in property there meanwhile?
How risky is it to your health if that is your choice. In the end it comes
down to a patriotic decision and if you want a precedent take London after
the war. With almost half the city in ruins, it all had to be rebult or
restored. People lived and worked around it and basically got on with
the job of living. It had to be done and people have survived, long lives
as it happens. The Queen Mother died at 101 for example. So yes, be aware,
try to avoid letting your kids from being exposed, but essentially it's
New York it has to be rebuilt. No matter what. But let's inform people
as to the risks so they can make a choice.
your Realtor doesnt want you to know in the UK
The Department of the Environment is involved in a sick home
register, investigating and listing homes near dangerous landfills linked
to possible cancer causing pollutants. Now, using data from the Health
and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and British Geological Society,
they have compiled an audit of UK homes which reveals that 1.3 million
homes are at risk of flooding, 444,000 homes are at risk of subsidence
and another 100,000 from landslides - according to Sitescope, an environmental
property risk company. At the moment in the UK property is valued according
to taste and proximity to good jobs and good schools, but if the hazards
of pollution and environmental hazards are taken into account, millions
of properties could fall quite radically in value, billions of pounds
of equity will be lost and many will find themselves in a massive negative
equity situation, one that will only get worse as future buyers concentrate
on safer areas. An example of this is cited by those living
near ICIs Runcorn industrial plant at the village of Weston. Hexachlorobutadiene
was discovered to be seeping into their homes from a disused quarry. (Which
could cause fetal abnormalities).
From a place like Cornwall, which has possibly cancer causing Radon problems
seeping into the stone built housing, to subsidence, which affects many
parts of the UK, homes have been classified into most at risk
postcodes Out of the 8000 postcodes (zipcodes) nearly 300 are classified
at very high risk.
There are 166,500 homes in the UK within a mile and a half of industrial
sites or waste dumps that could cause cancer. More than 300 factory plants
are releasing particulates, carbon monoxide, and other noxious fumes into
the local atmosphere. There is now evidence linking cancer with power
lines over or nearby housing (Particulates become electrically charged-
and where there is a persistent wind - as in Cornwall, it can pose a risk
when these particlualtes enter the lung. Many housing estates in the UK
and in particular in Cornwall have huge power lines draped over them.
The clusters of cancers in these areas cannot be a 'coincidence'. (The
research on this is being surpressed by the BMA (British Medical Association)
and the UK Government to limit liability.)
You can now log on to key websites to find out the hazards in the area
you live in, or more importantly where to move to. This means that if
you can, so can the insurance and mortgage companies. The consequences
are huge. Some areas and whole estates, whole towns could face huge insurance
cost rises, or worse, withdrawal of insurance for key problems such as
risk of flooding, subsidence, or illness brought about by carcinogens
from industrial fallout.
It is likely that a massive housing blacklist will develop and with it,
labour mobility could also be affected. If you cannot raise money on your
home or sell it, as many people are finding out is true, they may have
to literally walk away from it and risk paying a mortgage for a home they
can longer live in and has little or no value. This is the the 20th Century
timebomb that is about to explode in the 21st. The old adage about an
investment being as safe as houses no long holds. Your home may actually
be the worst investment you ever made.
SAFE AS YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD?
Right now the UK in 2002 is experiencing the biggest property boom since
1988 and houses built on landfills and other dubious places are selling
overnight at crazy prices. As of November 2002, property is almost a hundred
percent higher than when I wrote thisarticle in 2000. It has risen 25
percent this year. No one is asking about good schools or low crime figures,
they just want in on a property frenzy, scared to be left behind. When
it comes time to selling in a future tight market, that's when you discover
that air quality or garbage collection is an issue.
For example: Take an area of London with the fastest rising prices; Hackney.
It has the second lowest passes at GCSE in schools at 32%, 30 percent
of the local population reported they they or a member of their family
had been mugged in the last year. In Lewisham, another fast price rising
area, there were 824 missed garbage collections, which wasn't as bad as
Redbrige with 4929 missed collections. Try selling your home when the
streets are choked with litter. (For balance, the richest area of London,
Westminster had 1892 missed collections and an incredible rise in muggings
- mostly kids stealing mobile phones from tourists.).
Sources Local Authority Performance Indicators 2000-1
If you want to see what is happening in the UK the following websites
will enlighten you. By January www.homecheck will be offering an e-mail
alert to tell you of new hazards, such as planning applications or new
landfill sites in your area (UK only).
*Now think of how you can get rich by buying in a low emission neighbourhood.
It's only a matter of time before this catches on and you'll be sitting
Who knows what it is like to have your stomach pumped from capsizing
in a polluted river. Who grew up beside the heavily industrialised River
Humber which has the highest asthma problem for children in the UK. Smog
is Good Business... "Never mind the genepool, just look at that sunset
In response to Kitimat article
My name is Aaron and I live in Terrace, BC, about 60 km's from Kitimat.
After reading the article written about Kitimat, I decided that
because of it's extreme bias that I would make a repsonse. This
is not intended to be malicious or anything of the sort.
It is unfair to label the employees of these companies as hard-working,
hard-drinking, canadians through and through. I know many employees
who work for Alcan Kitimat Works and most of them are skilled tradesmen,
not the thoughtless slobs you make them out to be. Furthermore,
you talk about the ladies basically working the streets on payday.
Wow, startling revelation! Kitimat is not the only place in the
world to have this.
I myself am a 19 year old man who is looking for work at one of
these "Big three" companies. They provide a good benefit
package and steady work-something that is hard to find. I don't
drink and I have never even had sex so how can you say these malicious
things and give seedy ideas about the employees of these companies?
Anyways, I just thought I would state the facts.
Anne Sluyter says Kitimat
is a healthier place to live than Vancouver
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