The Lafarge plant in Brookfield. Photo: Media Co-op

A handful of citizens who live beside a cement plant in Brookfield, 10 kilometers south of Truro, have lost a court battle to prevent Lafarge Canada from burning tires for fuel. CABOT (Citizens Against the Burning of Tires) launched a judicial review of Environment Minister Iain Rankin’s decision last July approving the project. Yesterday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice James Chipman denied the appeal and upheld the minister’s decision.

“We are pleased that we are now able to proceed with our one-year Pilot Demonstration and we believe that’s the best way to answer any remaining questions by all of our stakeholders,” said Karine Cousineau, senior manager for Communications at Lafarge Canada. “This demonstration will allow us to confirm at full scale the excellent environmental results obtained in the Dalhousie labs. Based on the research and results available to us we can expect a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions for every tonne of coal replaced and a 15 per cent reduction in NOX emissions.”

A 2015 modelling study carried out by Dalhousie University’s Mark Gibson and a team of engineering students was a critical part of the information presented by Lafarge in the Environmental Assessment it filed to justify the pilot project to burn whole tires replacing petroleum coke as fuel in its cement kiln.

Justice Chipman rejected an argument by the citizens group the minister had approved a project to burn whole tires when the evidence in the study was based solely on burning shredded tires, the usual practice in Europe because it reduces the risk of  “upset” conditions in the kiln which can lead to an accidental release of pollutants. The judge found the study referenced tires in both forms.

The second argument presented by the citizen’s group was that the minister’s decision was “unreasonable” because of what it failed to take into consideration:  essentially the impact of toxic chemicals produced by burning rubber, which if released, could contaminate the air, the water, and the land on which food is grown.

The Court’s role in this Judicial Review was to determine whether the minister’s decision fell within a reasonable range of outcomes. In his written decision, Chipman concluded: “The Lafarge pilot project has been approved by the Minister of Environment and the Minister is entitled to the Court’s deference, in making what I have determined to be a reasonable decision.”

Justice Chipman declined to assess the merits of the science itself as some environmental groups, including the Ecology Action Centre, had hoped.

“We as citizens continue to have concerns about the impact of burning whole tires at the Brookfield Cement Plant,” emailed Lydia Sorflaten, spokesperson for CABOT for whom this was the third and expensive battle in a 10-year fight. “Concerns identified by Dr. Douglas Hallett, toxicologist, include potential irreversible damage to: health, environment, water, air and soil.”

Douglas J. Hallett (M.Sc and Ph.D in biology and organic chemistry) is an experienced environmental consultant whose expertise includes toxic chemicals and their effects on human health and the environment. He worked as a cancer researcher and a regulator with the federal government before serving on the International Joint Commission Great Lakes Water Quality Board. An earlier motion by CABOT asking the court to allow Hallett to testify about deficiencies in the science presented to the Environment minister before he gave his approval was rejected by Supreme Court Judge Denise Boudreau in January.

“It is important to remember that the Court on this Judicial Review did not itself undertake a scientific or technical evaluation of the pilot project and its impacts on human health and the environment,” notes Sorflaten. “Rather, the Court granted deference to the Minister in this regard. We ask that the Department of the Environment take our concerns seriously and ensure that the impact of burning whole tires has been properly assessed. Burning whole tires at Lafarge’s old plant in Brookfield would be a disastrous move for human health and the environment”.

Minister Rankin’s decision to allow tire-burning limits Lafarge to 350,000 tires a year, or 15 per cent of the company’s fuel supply. It’s subject to a dozen conditions. They include a tire storage and waste management plan, as well as the monitoring of emissions, air quality, and noise. Lafarge has said it will make those results public. Lafarge must submit an air dispersion modelling study, as well as a pre-test of particulate from the plant’s 40-year-old electrostatic precipitator. It must provide an emergency response plan in the event of an operational “upset” in the kiln or a fire. The company must establish a community liaison and complaints process.

“I am satisfied that any adverse effects or significant environmental effects of the undertaking can be adequately mitigated through compliance with these terms and conditions, “said Environment Minister Iain Rankin in July 2017 when he green-lighted a project which two previous governments had rejected and his own party had denounced while in opposition.

Lafarge’s lawyer John Keith requested a decision before the end of this month to allow the company to start burning tires this May, but the company tells the Examiner that the tire-burning pilot won’t start until fall. Seventy people are employed fulltime and Lafarge says it is spent about $2 million preparing to burn tires in Nova Scotia as it does at other plants in Quebec and the U.S. but not in Ontario where residents there also opposed that idea.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

Leave a comment

Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.