Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Follow-Up Meeting on the Landfill Fire

On March 29th, my husband and I went to a follow-up town hall meeting put together by Alderman Colley-Urquhart regarding the Tsuu-T'ina landfill fire that started on February 8th, 2012. There weren’t nearly as many people at this one as at the first.  You’d think it would be quieter but it wasn’t.  She had invited a panel from the Alberta Health Services to explain to us their role during that time.  It was quite the interesting meeting.

In the first five minutes, Alderman Colley-Urquhart explained her position on the media attack of her first meeting.   As Alderman, it is not her in her purview to invite Chief Big Plume to anything as he is the band leader.  That would be the responsibility of the mayor to do so and once she said it, it made a lot of sense.  Personally, I never thought it was her responsibility to invite him as she made it clear to us that she wanted the perspective of the residents in her ward before she moved forward. Having him there would have been a detriment to what we were trying to accomplish that first night.

The panel that addressed us was a five member panel from Alberta Health Services and Environmental Monitoring.  I’m not going to go into a lot of detail because I didn’t record it, so most of this is from memory.  Each person explained what they did and who they spoke to. They did explain in great detail how air quality was measured (I found out from their map that one of the monitors was very close to my home). They also explained why it took so long for the process to start.

The doctors that were there explained that as information came to them, they called schools and media to tell them what they needed to know about the situation. They also told us each of the departments wrote reports on their responsibilities.  These reports are being studied and compiled so that they can come up with a better response if something like this were to happen again.  This is reactionary, but like everyone else, AHS needs to learn as well.  I’m hoping an incident such as this doesn’t happen again but being this is the third incident from the reserve that people remember, we all worry.

For environmental monitoring, Alberta right now only has one very specialized vehicle and it was in Edmonton. From the time it was determined there was this massive fire to “we need to know what people are breathing in” it took 3 hours to get the vehicle down here. It's a little scary but I'm glad to know.  We also learned that the Tsuu T’ina used 3 separate volunteer fire departments to help put the fire out and never did call the Calgary Fire Department.

One of the doctors did explain that the schools were told to close their fresh air intake.  A gentleman in the crowd brought up that for homes this isn’t an option as gas furnaces require the fresh air intakes to run.  That’s when I learned (like many others) that furnaces have two intakes; a fresh air intake and a combustion air intake and we should have closed the fresh air intakes to our homes as well.  Again, stuff I would have liked to know but never found and was never told until long after the fact.

Some of the questions that the panel could not answer were:

  • When did the fire actually start? (though based on our estimation, it was probably at about 11:00 pm)
  • Why was the Calgary Fire Department not ultimately called to the landfill fire?
  • What does the Tsuu T'ina Nation intend to do about the landfill?
  • How is it possible or legal for the Tsuu T'ina Nation to run an unlicensed landfill?

To me, the panel was there to address their participation in “the incident” as they called it. They were not there to address their participation in other incidents or tell us “should have beens.”  I believe they described what they did very effectively. Not only that, they described to my satisfaction the next steps to be taken. Obviously, it's not helping us out for the this fire but I would like to have had this information at the time.

I really did feel alone and helpless. I heard a couple of times (from my husband as well) that they didn't hear about the air advisory until it was all over. The only reason I knew about it is because I looked for it. To me, that means Alberta Health Services didn't let the media know how truly important this was. If AHS needs to stand out on the street and yell it at the neighbourhood, then do so! It did affect asthma sufferers and from what I've understood, some people are still suffering some ill effects.  At least one person had to stay in a hotel and it was a very real possibility for my husband.

I did a quick estimate of the number of people that were affected by this fire and I know that this number is low. I believe it to be roughly 100,000 people yet I feel we were not taken very seriously. I understand now that a few different services were involved in making sure we were safe but we weren't told. I had to search hard for the smallest amount of information and I am good at finding almost anything on the internet.

A lot of questions came up here that did come up at the previous meeting. Some general complaining happened as well but that's to be expected at anything like this. I didn't mind that so much. That way I knew I wasn't the only one feeling helpless. What I didn’t appreciate was the one woman who spoke up, sitting in front of me.  She said she was hearing a lot of racism towards the Tsuu T’ina Nation.   Apparently we were at different meetings.  I had to disagree with her.  I myself am aboriginal (I’m not from the Tsuu T’ina Nation) and if I felt any racist comments were being made, I would have been the first to speak up. She wanted those at the meeting to show respect and compassion for those on the reserve.  Just as I was about to speak up, another woman sitting just to my left said very loudly “Do you want us all to leave then!” and that pretty much summed it up for me. I had nothing to add to that. I loved it! We were there to discuss how this fire and any potential future disaster would affect us and what the city could do and this woman was taking offence on behalf of someone else. Not only that, she didn't even take the time to see if there were other aboriginals in the room. That just annoys me, that does!

What I knew that morning was I woke up at 4am with my house full of smoke. When I discovered it wasn’t my house or my neighbours house that wasn’t on fire, it took hours to find anything on what it was.  I had to search the internet hard to find one small paragraph at 9:30 am that told me there was a fire on the Tsuu T'ina reserve. I didn't find reference of the air advisory until 5pm that evening and I was one of the lucky ones to know that much.  After a while, I knew the Calgary Fire Department wasn't going out to help. Other than that, I didn’t know much.  I saw a lot of conflicting reports on what was going on.  It was a controlled burn, it was accidental, it was underground, it was above ground and they drilled the boreholes to bring it under control and it goes on.  I’m glad in this case, no one was harmed or killed but with the lack of information, who knows what will happen next time.

I hope with this, Alberta Health Services, The City of Calgary and the Tsuu T’ina Nation work together to find an amicable solution so a cross jurisdictional problem doesn’t stop anyone from helping anyone else again.  That seems like such a silly excuse.  Of all things for my tax money not to be used for, why a disaster that affected the health of myself, my husband, and my neighbours?

No comments:

Post a Comment