Residents made their closing, but definitely not the last remarks in a week-long hearing on what life is like in a neighborhood of ‘astronomical changes’ last week.
“It was incredibly emotional,” recalled Cheryl Henkelman, a resident who was the first of nine from the northeast Strathcona County area, perusing a statement to a panel of resource conservation officials last Friday.
The statement outlined health problems she says have a surmounting aspect of prevalence in her neighborhood sheathed with industry.
The northeast Strathcona County inhabitants are fighting an Agrium extension, located across the North Saskatchewan River. Both may wait up to 90 days for a decision on whether or not approval will be granted by the Natural Resource Conservation Board (NRCB) for the proposed phosphogypsum storage stack. This is a hearing involving one company, some neighboring residents and many fingers pointed in opposite directions.
The fertilizer producer Agrium says jobs are at stake, while experts hired by residents say health is on the line, and some controvert area environmental assessments have different implications. One implies the environment is quivering at the hands of industrial pollution, while another points to a positive step in working to minimize the impact industry has on the backdrop, labeled as the Industrial Heartland, bordering Fort Saskatchewan.
All the counterparts of the aforementioned will have to wait for their harbinger of news to ring true with what some hope is a timely decision.
“We have completed the health risk assessments and feel confident that nothing in our existing operations or our extension, and ongoing operations pose a health concern to the community,” said Alex Watson, general manager of Agrium operations.
He said the companies fundamental concern is the health and safety of the locale, the employees of the plant.
Residents argue their health is adversely being affected by area industry, and any type of extended industrial existence will further add to their problems.
Agrium says the gyp stack, which is the by-product from making phosphate fertilizer, is going to extend that portion of their operations in the area for another 26 years.
“The changes that have occurred in our area in the past five years alone have been astronomical, “ notes Henkelman. “Our land use has been re-zoned from conservation area to heavy industrial, and we have been engulfed by the self-proclaimed Alberta Industrial heartland….We will continue to object to every project that affects us. We don’t do this because we want to, we have to. We fear it is not healthy living here.”
Experts whom residents hired to be impartial in their findings were brought in from New York, Toronto, and Idaho and spoke on various issues including the levels of fluoride in the region. The substance is a background component of the gypsum that is slowly released, and found in the environment. It is also a common component found in everyday products like toothpaste, and mouthwash.
Dentist fluoride expert Lennart Krook said at the hearing, he had evidence from a report challenging the common interpretation dental fluoride or high levels of it in people poses no health risk.
He said the instances of child bone fractures increases with the high level of fluoride.
The hired experts included one who elaborated on how the fluoride, is transferred from the Agrium site to the where the Strathcona residents live.
Another one tested deceased animals from the area for fluoride levels, and found high levels.
“Fluoride is naturally occurring,” said Watson. “It naturally occurs in the environment and the foods we eat.”
He claims based on studies the company completed, that Agrium’s contribution of fluoride levels are minimal.