Air quality and the Ajax mine

Marvin Beatty, Contributor  Ω

Dr. Douw Steyn of the University of British Columbia has spoken to Kamloops citizens before regarding the “substantially degraded” air quality here, but last Thursday, Mar. 8,  he addressed a new factor—the proposed Ajax mine.

A professor in UBC’s department of earth and ocean sciences, Dr. Steyn is a world-renowned expert in the field of air pollution, particularly at a regional level.

Dr. Steyn’s presentation, attended by over 100 people, was sponsored by the Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association, the faculty of science and the department of geography.

It was a similar talk to one he gave two years ago regarding a proposed railway tie burning plant.

“When I sat down to prepare this talk,” joked Dr. Steyn, “I just pulled out my old slides and said, ‘Oh these are pretty good…what has changed?’”

In fact, he knows well what has changed.

He has produced a report, Approaches to Understanding Air Quality Impacts of Proposed Ajax Mine Development in Kamloops Valley, for the Kamloops Area Preservation Association (KAPA).

That report is part of KAPA’s submissions to federal and provincial governments regarding questions KGHM Ajax must answer as part of an environmental assessment.

The UBC scientist described technical and scientific models that the assessment must use to predict the pollution impacts from mine operations.

Steyn said it is important to realize the air we breathe when outdoors depends on three things: strength of emissions, weather and the way weather interacts with the landscape.

He also said significant amounts of naturally occurring sedimentary materials, such as dust, exist here.

He spoke cautiously about how winds might affect large waste rock piles produced by the mine.

“It’s possible—highly possible—that the mineral dust will contain heavy metals.

“The world in this matter operates relatively simply; you’ve got to understand the consequences of this thoroughly and openly.

“A properly constituted air quality analysis within the environmental assessment process must be performed.

“I would not say air pollution in Kamloops is a disaster—I would say it’s substantially degraded.

Under all the indices, or compared with the Canada-wide standards, it’s not over the standards, but it’s just below the standards.”

Further loss of air quality can be prevented through a comprehensive airshed management plan, he said, balancing the two aims of the City of Kamloops’ motto, “Salus et Opes,” translated as, “Health and Wealth.”

Steyn was asked for his personal opinion of the proposed mine.

He said it was premature to be fixed on a position at this stage.

“It’s fantastic to see the community passionate and engaged.

“Whichever way the decision lies at the end must be based on an open, rational and scientifically defensible procedure,” Steyn said.

“In my mind it’s [a comprehensive air quality analysis] a no brainer, it has to be done and must be done properly.”