Jacquelyn Shaw (left), Ecology Action Centre researcher, and Lydia Sorflaten, Citizens Against Burning Of Tires. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Talk about déjà vu. NDP Environment critic Lenore Zann has resurrected a bill that Liberal MLA Keith Colwell introduced 10 years ago to ban tire-burning in Nova Scotia. All three political parties passed it in 2008 but the law was never proclaimed.

Don’t expect the Liberals to pass a carbon copy of their previous bill now. Last July, the Liberal government of Stephen MacNeil surprised many people (including CABOT, Citizens Against Burning Of Tires ) when it approved a one-year pilot project to burn tires at the Lafarge Canada cement plant near Brookfield, 80 kilometres north of Halifax.

It’s the company’s third try to replace petroleum coke with tires it says will reduce its carbon emissions by 30 per cent.

“I think the government is making flawed and incomplete arguments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and I think they are also hypocritical,” said NDP leader Gary Burrill. “The people in that Shortts Lake-Pleasant Valley area I represented from 2009-2013 understood that the Liberal party had taken up their cause and had led matters legislatively to a place where their concerns had been addressed.”

Zann’s bill yesterday was accompanied by a petition from 3,000 local residents — 700 written signatures and the rest online. Shortts Lake resident Lydia Sorflaten is one of the objectors; she and five others have asked the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for a judicial review of the decision, and the court has scheduled a hearing for next March.

“I can’t believe that after 10 years this fight is still ongoing,” said Sorflaten. “I’m asking all parties to support this legislation and prevent tires from being used for fuel.”

Environment minister Iain Rankin said he approved the one-year pilot project “based on science and evidence” contained in Lafarge’s project application, to which the Environment Department has attached a dozen conditions  “to reduce environmental impacts and protect public health.”

At a news briefing yesterday organized by the NDP, Ecology Action Center, and East Coast Environmental Law, a study of Lafarge’s  tire-burning project led by Mark Gibson at the Faculty of Engineering at Dalhousie University came in for some heavy criticism. The 2015  Dal study was used to support Lafarge’s Environmental Impact Statement. The Environment Minister has also referenced the  study to defend his decision to approve the project. The study used modelling to conclude burning whole tires in the cement kiln should reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent and NOX (smog) by a similar amount.

Although the Dal Engineering study said it had reviewed research specific to tire-burning, Jacquelyn Shaw, an Ecology Action Centre volunteer with degrees in law and public health, found 21 additional studies that associated burning tires with increases in toxic pollutants such as heavy metals (lead, chromium, and zinc) and fine particulate in ash that can damage lungs. The Dal study did not reference any of those 21 studies.  That led researcher Shaw to state that “the Dalhousie study cannot offer an adequate, scientifically grounded basis for a major policy shift affecting environmental/human health. We believe the government has relied too heavily on this one, narrowly focussed engineering assessment of Tire Derived Fuel’s  (TDF) environmental safety.”

Another concern raised in letters from citizens to the Environment Minister as well as the Ecology Action Center is the study’s lack of analysis regarding the interaction of a new fuel (tires) with other fuels such as petroleum coke. Mark Gibson, the author of the study, disputes that.

“My research team did conduct extensive testing in a tube furnace where we fired coal on its own, tires on their own, and a mixture of tires and coal. From these tests, and the literature, it was deemed that a 15 per cent replacement of coal by scrap tires will definitely reduce CO2  by up to 30 per cent when you factor 20-50 per cent of tires are made from rubber obtained from rubber trees,” wrote Dr. Gibson in an email.

In material filed before the court, Lafarge Canada has indicated it anticipates a 27 per cent increase in carcinogenic dioxins and furans formed by the breakdown of chlorine in tires during burning. The Industrial air quality monitoring division within the provincial Environment Department — the same small unit responsible for enforcing rules at Northern Pulp — recommended the province add many conditions to the approval before issuing Lafarge a temporary permit. Those conditions include establishing a baseline for emissions and conducting stack testing on the 40-year-old electrostatic precipitator before and after tire-burning.

“We have entered an era where cutting fossil fuel is a number one priority,” notes Gibson. “Emission testing will include metals, dioxins and furans, PAHs, and the rest of the regulatory laundry list of emission from cement kilns. I will scrutinize the data along with stakeholders including EAC, the public, and Minister for the Environment. The test data will allow for an informed decision to be made on the potential use of scrap tires as an alternate energy source at Brookfield cement plant.”

Despite these safeguards, Shortts Lake resident Lydia Sorflaten is not re-assured by the actions taken by the province and the company to date.  An “upset” or release of ash coated Shortts Lake in 2014 after used oil was added to a kiln that already contained other fuels.

Sorflaten wants Lafarge to shred tires before burning them to prevent “upsets” in kilns that can lead to unwanted releases of ash and chemicals harmful to human health.

“In Europe, whole tires are a non-starter,” said Sorflaten. “If tires are going to be burned, they need to be shredded. If they are going to be burned at Lafarge, the plant should be upgraded. If you are going to do it here, do it right!”

At a minimum, Sorflaten says a multinational company with $38 billion in revenue should be required upgrade pollution controls at one of its oldest North American facilities, now 50 years old. Especially considering it is being paid to receive tires (about 30 per cent of the province’s supply)  with money collected from drivers to cover the cost of recycling them at another Nova Scotia company.

“Ten years ago, we didn’t have a recycling program, but now we do,” says NDP Truro MLA Lenore Zann. “Why would we want to put that at risk?”

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

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  1. Interesting, they assume the carbon footprint is lower because the tires have tree rubber in them. Was no CO2 produced transporting that rubber? I also wonder how much forest is cut down to create rubber plantations. This whole exercise is designed to lower costs for lafarge,

  2. I don’t know all the details of this study, but on the face of it this comment makes no sense: “From these tests, and the literature, it was deemed that a 15 per cent replacement of coal by scrap tires will definitely reduce CO2 by up to 30 per cent …”.

    Surely if you are only replacing 15% of the coal, the maximum reduction in CO2 would be 15% – and that would be if the replacement was carbon neutral. Are we to believe that the coal which is still being burned will produce less CO2 when tires are also burned?

    And what does “definitely … up to…” mean? Is it definite, or is it somewhere in the range. Technically, a 1% reduction would fall within “definitely up to 30%”. If he just means it definitely won’t be more than 30%, I believe him.