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Port Fuels: Public Health adds its voice to calls for more answers

Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health will join a chorus of voices asking the province for greater scrutiny of a proposed gasification plant on the city's waterfront.
The proposed garbage plant would be on a site of leased land on Pier 15 on the Hamilton waterfront. (Courtesy of Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc.)

Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health will join a chorus of voices asking the province for greater scrutiny of a proposed gasification plant on the city's waterfront.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson will write a letter to the Ministry of Environment saying that her department has concerns with the proposed Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc. plant.

The action follows a report from her department to the board of health on Monday that concluded there are a lot of unanswered questions. And Richardson wants to see Port Fuels answer them.

That's a giant leap of faith given the inconsistencies.- Coun. Matthew Green

She wants the ministry to "identify a process" through which Port Fuels will answer a handful of questions about the project's impact on human health. That process "could include an individual environment assessment."

City council has already submitted its own request for an environmental assessment, asking the project be bumped up from a less rigorous environmental screening. Port Fuels insists it's not necessary and the screening is sufficient and provides the same information.

And last week, a city consultant said that even with a city council vote, a bump up is unlikely.

A bump up would give the city more assurance on the Port Fuels plant, which will use a technology called Gasplasma. Port Fuels has tested the new mixture of two existing technologies at a much smaller plant in Swindon, UK.

The plant would be on Pier 15 on land leased by the Hamilton Port Authority. Those in favour say it's innovative technology that diverts waste from landfills. Those against it — including many city councillors — say it conflicts with the city's new greener image, and that they worry about health and environmental impacts.

Whatever happens, the city will have little say in the process. The port authority board grants the lease, and the Port Fuels land doesn't even need to be rezoned to meet the city's rules.

We want everything in writing now.- Coun. Sam Merulla

Monday's report gave mixed reviews on the project. It referred to the plant as using "promising, innovative technology" that will help the environment, which has "positive implications for public health." It also praised Port Fuels's stated plan to bring in garbage from within a five-kilometre radius and to use a carbon dioxide-capturing process that minimizes how much carbon dioxide the plant will release.

But Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3, a gasification plant opponent, pointed out flaws in the process. Port Fuels provided much of the data in the report, he said, and it's given inconsistent numbers before.

It also held back information it identifies as trade secrets, and gave other information under a non-disclosure agreement, so no one beyond a select group of Public Health staff can see it.

As for the "promising, innovative" line, "that's a giant leap of faith given the inconsistencies," he said.

Public Health staff are still working with Port Fuels to get more information on the project, said Jessica Hopkins, associate medical officer of health. It's "a productive discussion," she said. 

When that's done, Richardson will write to the Minister of Environment by May 4 outlining any concerns with the project.

Councillors are trying to alleviate more of them. The city has long wanted reassurance that the project would only use waste from around Hamilton, not imported from other areas. But Port Fuels has never put that in writing.

Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4 will move that it does at a future meeting. He also wants to see a written pledge that Port Fuels will do real-time monitoring of the facility's emissions.

"We want everything in writing now," he said.

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