Visible Air Pollution in the Industrial Heartland of
Alberta and Vicinity
Index for this page
Everyone of the permits required to be able to construct
and operate one of the many
petrochemical plants in the Industrial Heartland of Alberta was granted on
the basis of a mandatory environmental impact assessment study and report.
Everyone of those reports identified that the polluting emissions
by the specific plant the report argued for would add permissible amounts of
pollution to the environment, amounts that would not raise the existing
background levels to exceptional levels.
All of the plants are being monitored for exceedences of
permissible emission levels.
Curiously, even though serious environmental problems originating with elemental sulfur and its
chemical derivatives (acid rain and worse) are being reported nearly everyday throughout the world
(see news page) ó problems that often are of
catastrophic proportions that cause loss of health, life and property ó
environmental impact assessment studies for sulphur-storage and -processing
facilities are not a legislative requirement (unless sufficient public
concerns warrant that an environmental impact assessment study be done)
before a sulfur-processing plant can be constructed.
No great or catastrophic emission exceedences ever occurred in what is now
the Industrial Heartland of Alberta, with perhaps a notable exception, the
escape of a large and damaging amount of chlorine gas from DOW Chemical in
the 1960s that hurt some people and killed livestock along the North
Saskatchewan River and its ravines. Chlorine gas is deadly, about as
deadly as sulphur dioxide, heavier than air (about as heavy as sulphur
dioxide) and will collect and concentrate in low
The large accidental release of chlorine gas happened before I
took up residence in Lamont County in 1973. I had read newspaper
reports of the accident but don't know the exact date of the chlorine
release and have not
been able to find a record of it other than through hearsay from various
sources. Still, toxic spills and releases of less than catastrophic
proportions are common in chemical plants. In addition, virtually all,
if not all, petrochemical plants in the area dispose of unwanted liquids and
gases by burning them by means of flare stacks. Flares that produce
large amounts of sooty smoke (see photo, below)
are a common sight in the Industrial Heartland, and they often burn
many hours at a stretch, producing large amounts of visible smoke that
travels for long distances.
There is a very good reason for flare stacks being very tall.
Their height helps to disperse the pollution they produce over a wider area
and prevents very dangerous concentrations of their emissions at ground
level in their immediate vicinity.
However, even though the air-monitoring data that are being
published by the Fort Air Partnership provide no indication that
background-pollution levels are rising, people within the Industrial
Heartland and its vicinity experience more and more instances of visible
evidence of ever increasing air pollution in the area (part of the visible
evidence is damage due to increasingly frequent acid rain, fog and drizzle).
The air pollution from the Industrial Heartland is now visible on every
clear day with relatively low wind-speeds, whereas three to a couple of
decades ago it was visible only on very few days throughout the year.
The only time residents of Lamont County now experience truly clear
and clean air is when the wind does not blow from the direction of the
The reality of adding negligible amounts of pollution by each plant is that
the more plants there are, the more pollution there will be. It all
adds up, and even a slow drip of water will eventually cause the bucket it
falls into to overflow.
The following photo is wide-angle shot of the same area four minutes later,
just after the Sun had fully set.
A 15km-long flare-stack-smoke plume (Full
A view of Bruderheim in the morning of Sep. 9, 2006 (6:58 am)
The photo was not taken because the air pollution from the Industrial
Heartland was especially visible. It was taken because it was a nice
day for taking photos. The air pollution is visible now on any clear
and relatively calm day (at the time there was no wind).
Co-existence of Agriculture and industry in the Industrial Heartland
It does not appear that the co-existence of agriculture and industry in the
Industrial Heartland is entirely peaceful or benign for agriculture.
The farm yard in the foreground is located across the North
Saskatchewan River south from the Redwater Fertilizer Plant (Agrium).
Many of the farms and acreages in the neighbourhood of that farm are now for
sale or have been sold already.
That may solve the problems of individual farm owners or residents.
However, as the photos of the visible air pollution on this page show, the
air pollution produced by the plants in the Industrial Heartland is a
problem that extends far beyond the boundaries of the Industrial Heartland.
Moreover, some of the affected people are third- or fourth-generation
residents in the area.
What price can be put on pride, traditions and multi-generation
homes? Should everything be for sale if the price is right? What
is the right price?
The fact remains that the air quality in our
area is visibly deteriorating and that
the Fort Air
Partnership monitoring data provide no measure of the rate of
A piece of cowboy logic goes: ďAlways drink upstream from the herd.Ē
Unfortunately, for anyone living or working in or near the Industrial
Heartland of Alberta ó short of moving or working elsewhere ó there is no way to get upstream from the soiled
environment and the dirty air that not all that many years ago were clean.
Another piece of cowboy logic goes: ďIf you find yourself in a hole, the
first thing is to stop digging.Ē
Itís about time that we stop digging.
Visible air pollution isnít just something to gaze at.
- It is something you smell when you go outside, especially if there
is no or little wind, and you wish you could go without breathing.
- It causes the paint on your car and on your house to fade and to
- It causes steel to rust and galvanized steel to lose its
- It causes electric fences to lose their effectiveness. If you are a
farmer and wonder why your electric fences donít work as well as they
did when you got them set up, you will get an explanation if you check
the electrical conductivity of the zinc-oxide-coating your fence wires
acquired in just a handful of years. You will be surprised that your
fence wires are now in effect insulated wires.
- It causes respiratory problems in children and the elderly.
The list goes on, and the problems will get worse
things get to be as bad as they are now in China, and people here too die
each year in numbers that can no longer be ignored.
We should stop digging now while we still can, so that we donít have to
dig graves when itís much too early, while wishing we didnít have to dig.