Residents near Mount Pleasant Cemetery who are worried about what’s being spewed from the crematorium’s smoke stack may soon have their fears put to rest.
About a dozen community members, including some who live metres away from the crematorium, have formed a working group to get answers on potential health risks to people in the area.
“Our group has come together in response to concerns that the neighbourhood has raised in the last five years over odours and black smoke coming from the crematorium,” said Lorraine Tinsley, a local resident and member of the unnamed working group. “As we have started to investigate the operations of this crematorium, we have learned some troubling information that has led us to look a little deeper into not only that crematorium itself but what alternatives exist.”
The system that does cremations at Mount Pleasant was built in 1972, before controls were placed on crematorium emissions. Because of this, crematorium operations at the cemetery are not required to meet existing emission standards.
Eleven schools are located within a one km radius of the crematorium and Tinsley said she and her group are concerned that dioxins, mercury, and other particulate matter may be adversely affecting the health of people in the area. She said she was particularly concerned because bodies are often cremated while in caskets coated in varnish and with metal handles.
Last July, the working group submitted a freedom of information request with the Ministry of the Environment to gain access to results from a 1998 stack test conducted to assess emissions from the crematorium. Tinsley said they disappointed with what they received.
“The ministry’s results that were given to us contained simply copies of the complaints we had already made as a neighbourhood to the ministry and nothing much more than that,” she said. “There was no emissions information available to us from the ministry.”
After being contacted by the Town Crier, Matthew Randall, senior environmental officer with the ministry, said that ministry policy required him to contact Mount Pleasant Group to see if it objected to the release of the information. Although the group did object, he said the ministry still released what it had at the time.
“The company party believed its stack emissions report contained proprietary information, however the ministry disagreed and released a summary of the report as we did not possess the full report at the time,” Randall said. “The ministry has since obtained the full report and is contacting the requestor to inquire if they would like it.”
According to Rick Cowan, assistant vice-president of marketing and communications with Mount Pleasant Group, the group objected to the release because it thought people might not understand that its crematorium is not subject to current guidelines.
“The one thing we had said was we would prefer that they not share that test because it could be interpreted incorrectly by the public and that would be unfair to us because the unit is operating in compliance,” Cowan said.
Cowan also said new systems for both Mount Pleasant and Elgin Mills cemeteries are being discussed with the Ministry of the Environment, claiming it would reduce emissions significantly.
“In excess of 99 percent of all emissions from the process are eliminated and actually are retained in a 45-gallon drum over the course of many, many cremations,” Cowan said, later adding, “The moment that we have our approvals on that it’s our intention to implement right away.”
Tinsley said she and her group are happy to hear a cremation system will likely be installed and said they hope to work as a sort of community advisory board that the cemetery will consult during the process.
“We are absolutely ecstatic because if that had not happened we would be pushing them to shut it down.”
She also said the group would like to have access to all emissions data once the new retort is in place.
“Even with stricter emissions controls on a new crematorium, the question we ask is is it ethically and morally just to expect us to continue to absorb any emissions that come out of that smoke stack when we know that greener, cleaner alternative cremation technologies exist,” Tinsley said.
Officials from Mount Pleasant Group said they would consider sharing the data and mentioned that while they are looking into other cremation processes the planned system would be the first of its kind in Canada.
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