STRATHCONA COUNTY – A group in Strathcona County is fighting a 120-hectare expansion of Agrium’s Redwater plant, saying heavy industry has brought ill health and made it impossible to sell their properties.
“Nobody wants to leave, we love it here,” said Cheryl Henkelman, one of about 20 residents who filed statements of concern with Alberta Environment on Friday in response to Agrium’s expansion proposal.
“But day in and day out, you can’t live here anymore.
“The view out here isn’t really pretty. In order to get to our places, you have to drive by Dow, Oxy Vinyl, Air Liquide and Shell refineries and across the river is Agrium Redwater.”
Agrium uses 172 hectares but is running out of space to store its gypsum, a byproduct in the production of phosphate fertilizers, said Greg McGlone, general manager of operations for Agrium in both Redwater and Fort Saskatchewan.
“We certainly understand the residents’ concerns,” McGlone said, adding that the company did a voluntary environmental assessment which came out clean.
The expansion will give Agrium enough space for 25 years, he said. The plant has been operating in Sturgeon County since 1969. It is the largest fertilizer/industrial chemical plant in Canada and can fill an average of 80 trucks and 50 rail cars each day. The expansion would not lead to higher production volumes.
McGlone said the cooling ponds for the proposed gypsum storage area are farther away from the residents’ houses than the old site. “We feel that this project is not detrimental to any residents in the area.”
But hemmed in by industry, Henkelman, 44, lists issues. She claimed fluoride in the gypsum can cripple cattle and cause their teeth to rot and fall out. If inhaled, she said, it can cause lung cancer.
On windy days, Henkelman said she often has to wipe her face to clear off the dust which blows from the dirty-white gypsum pile.
“Many of us experience headaches, dizziness. Our eyes will water, you’ll get a tight chest,” she said. “You kind of walk out the front door and wonder what the odour of the day is going to be. The odours at times are just overwhelming. They can make you just sick to your stomach.”
Lawyer Jennifer Klimek, who represents Henkelman and the other residents, said the Natural Resources Conservation Board must look at the cumulative effects from all the industrial plants before allowing the expansion of Agrium’s gypsum pile.
“You can’t just look at this plant alone,” she said.
“(The gypsum) is a waste product and the major problems we have are with fluoride and there are radioactive particles in it. We want a full assessment into the effects of these on air and water because it’s right on the banks of the North Saskatchewan and we’re all downwind.”
The concerned residents live on the south bank of the river, an area which was rezoned to heavy industry in 2001. A year before, Henkelman said Strathcona County, on the recommendations of the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, bought the property of 24 families who were being hemmed in by the Shell Canada expansion.
Now she would like to get the same buyout, but the county isn’t interested.
The mayor of Strathcona County was unavailable for comment Friday.
The county’s decision has put Mary Mackintosh, 65, and her retired husband in a tight situation. The couple put their four-hectare lot — its backyard faces Agrium — up for sale five months ago.
Their one serious buyer pulled out after finding out the county would not allow construction of a new house on the property.
Only two other people looked at the property.
“It’s very stressful,” Mackintosh said, after living there for 24 years. Her husband has back problems and, after surgery, is more sensitive to the smells and constant noise from nearby industry.
Though it’s not a necessary part of the approval process, the Natural Resources Conservation Board will likely hold a public hearing into the issue in the fall.
Robert Moyles, spokesman for Alberta Environment, said Agrium requested that the board review the case because the board bases its decision not only on environmental factors, but on social issues and community concerns.
Moyles said the process wasn’t mandatory for this kind of expansion project.
“They were actually being pro-active. Up front, they wanted to do due diligence.”
A decision is expected late this year or early in 2004.