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Questions raised about Stanton incinerator

17-year-old unit might not meet current waste guidelines

Tara Kearsey
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 18/03) - It could be just a matter of time before Stanton Territorial Hospital's biomedical waste incinerator is shut down.

Yellowknifer has learned the 17-year-old incinerator does not burn hot enough to break down all hazardous materials and the bottom ash remaining after incineration is not being properly disposed of.

NNSL Photo

What gets incinerated...

Between 175 and 250 kilograms of waste is burned daily.

It includes materials that come into contact with blood products or other biomedical waste, needles and other sharps, specimen jars, diapers, bandages, wet dressings, chemotherapy drugs and other pharmaceuticals.

Kerry Beauchamp, Stanton's facility manager, said the incinerator burns at a maximum temperature of 900 C.

Under current national standards, incinerators should reach a temperature of 1,200 to 1,300C in order to kill all potentially infectious bacteria. Burning plastics also creates cancer-causing dioxins and furans.

"You need to reach these very high temperatures in order for the plastics to break down and for the infectious substances, the bacteria, the viruses to actually be killed," said Emery Paquin, director of environmental protection service for the GNWT.

Revelations about Stanton's incinerator come as the government reviews handling of biomedical waste. New federal regulations are expected by 2006.

In June, Hay River hospital's biomedical waste incinerator was shut down due to staff concerns that it was not working properly. Fort Smith's incinerator was shut down two years ago when residents complained about thick black smoke leaking from the stack. Inuvik's new hospital also has a biomedical waste incinerator.

Ash disposal questioned

Paquin also confirmed Stanton does not properly dispose of the bottom ash -- the material left over after combustion. This bottom ash contains broken down plastics, glass and small metal products that have been contaminated by blood products.

The ash is dumped into the city landfill and mixed in with the garbage, said Beauchamp.

"It's basically ash and old glass. There's nothing left that comes through that we would worry about," he said.

But Paquin said bottom ashes "potentially could be toxic", depending on the efficiency of the incinerator. "They shouldn't simply be dumped into the landfill. They shouldn't be disposed of with the regular refuse and they should be placed into a container or a separate area and covered."

It is not even known if Stanton is meeting current emissions standards.

"That's a very complex, very costly test, so we haven't done that yet. We haven't had the need to do it yet," he said.

But Paquin said the incinerator "probably will not be able to meet the new emissions criteria" for the reduction of dioxins and furans.

The last independent inspection of Stanton's biomedical incinerator was conducted last summer by Edmonton-based Westland Incinerator Company.

At that time, the unit was operating according to manufacturer's specifications.

A new biomedical incinerator would cost a minimum of $250,000, said Paquin, but the price tag could run much higher depending on the size required.

Other options could include shipping out biomedical waste to other jurisdictions down south for incineration.

That's what Fort Smith has been doing for the past 18 months.