Nunatsiaq News
LETTERS: Nunavut June 06, 2014 - 8:35 am

Open letter to Iqaluit City Council

Particulate matter hurts people with asthma, COPD


To Mayor John Graham and Iqaluit City Councillors: As you well know, many Iqalummiut are expressing concerns over the city’s decision to let the dump fire burn itself out over the next months.

I am one of them, and these are my thoughts. To cut to the chase, we are out of our league and need to ask for help from outside the municipality.

On Thursday, May 29, I was fortunate to get a half hour of time with our gracious and thoughtful fire chief, as well as talking to our equally gracious and thoughtful Chief Medical Officer of Health, and I do not question that all involved in decision-making are doing their best.

What I learned is that non-intervention in the fire was a choice based on balancing risks and also capabilities.

I learned that Iqaluit does not have the capacity to put out the fire. This is a fire that is apparently burning in a pile of mixed combustibles — eg., paper and plastic — with a heat source — eg., compost, food, and layers of sewage lagoon stuff — that is the size of a football field and four stories tall.

The firefighters, who also drive ambulances and bring us to the hospital when we are seriously ill, would be too much at risk.  Even if it were safe, we do not have enough firefighters to continually fight this fire for the time it would take to put it out.

The two trucks cannot have salt water in them. Using the two trucks would make them unavailable to fight other fires.  It would take approximately 1.2 million liters of water to put out the fire.

I had reinforced what I knew regarding health risks: particulate matter is going to make people with asthma and other chronic diseases suffer in the short term. Toxins in the air will be related to whatever is burning at the time (mixed plastics, food, paper etc.) and we will never ever be able to clearly link exposures over this period of time to future health problems that may result from breathing this stuff into our lungs.

I also learned that it is estimated that it will take at least two to three months to burn to the ground.

This is totally unacceptable to me and I think to many of the people of Iqaluit. 

Many Nunavummiut have bigger concerns than writing about dump fires and others may well think I’d better ‘suck it up buttercup’, but I write on behalf of the kids who are being told to stay indoors when the wind is blowing this way, and the elders with COPD, and anyone else who questions the decision to let it burn and hasn’t spoken up.

The obvious non-expert solution is to find a way to use that large body of water beside the dump, the ocean, and pump it up and drown the fire.

There would be the problem with the effluent that will make its way back into the ocean, but in balancing the risks to human health and well being, this should not be a reason not to move forward with a plan to put the fire out.

Effluent is supposed to be treated now, and should be taken into account when planning to put out the fire. I respectfully ask that the city council please consider asking for outside help.

This might mean swallowing some pride perhaps and acknowledging that we are not able to fight this fire. Call the feds, call Engineers Without Borders, call the army, call someone please. Get the expertise, the emergency funding and the bodies to put it out.

And once this fire is out, let’s do what we need to do so we can have a modern waste treatment facility that separates combustibles from other items, has a composting facility, and treats its effluent properly.

Otherwise we are doomed to repeat this toxic event over and over and over again.

Madeleine Cole

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