Air quality testing promised again for concerned St. Boniface residents

Air quality testing is coming soon to Winnipeg's St. Boniface neighbourhood, the Manitoba government says.

Many have long complained about odour, dust, gases, haze, noise and other air pollutants

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires says she is rebuilding the inventory of equipment in the government's air quality and soil departments, including adding a mobile unit. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Air quality testing is coming soon to Winnipeg's St. Boniface neighbourhood, the Manitoba government says.

Concerns about odour, dust, gases, haze, noise and other air pollutants have long been voiced by people who live in some parts of the city's French quarter, particularly around the area's industrial park.

The demand for air quality tests got much louder earlier this year after a residents' group expressed fears their soil was being contaminated with high levels of toxic metals.

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said she recently met with the South St. Boniface Residents Association and promised them the testing will begin soon.

"They've asked for more air quality monitoring and I've committed to delivering on that," she said, adding the government has started the process of upgrading its monitoring equipment.

The air quality and soil departments "were drastically cut" in 2009 under the previous NDP administration, Squires said.

She is rebuilding that inventory of equipment, including adding a mobile unit, but couldn't say exactly when testing would start.

Her department is pricing out a mobile unit right now with the aim "to acquire it soon."

Residents had hoped the testing would have already begun. Don Labossiere, director of Sustainable Development's environmental compliance and enforcement, said in October that testing would begin in November.

Squires said the matter is sensitive because there is 115 years' worth of industry within the St. Boniface industrial park.

"But we also know a residential neighbourhood has grown up around that," she said. "The challenge is, how can we live in harmony with industry and residents side by side."

She said numerous times that she wants to "hit the reset button" and see if, with new technologies, residents and industry can co-exist in a more compatible way.

For instance, the government will be implementing "enhanced regulations" for the auto-recycling industry, based on new research, Squires said, but she did not elaborate.

"It's really about hitting the reset button and asking all the parties to come to the table," she said.

"Some of it is city and some of it is federal and where I have the authority to provide oversight, I will."