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Kahnawake Council acknowledges air quality concerns

le vendredi 10 mai 2024
Modifié à 15 h 24 min le 10 mai 2024

Terrapure Facility in Sainte-Catherine. (Photo : Le Reflet - Archives)

When Karihwakátste Deer got home around lunchtime recently, she noticed a smell of burning plastic so disturbing she allowed herself only shallow breaths, worried about the dangers of breathing in the air.

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative - The Eastern Door

Having noticed industrial smells for a couple years – odours that are only getting worse with time, she said – she decided enough was enough and called up the Kahnawake Environment Protection Office (KEPO) to ask for some testing.

“For myself, seeing how the recent oil spill that took place in Chateauguay affected our water, land, and our people, it was a wake-up call to be more aware of what’s going on around our community,” she said.

Deer appealed to her neighbours to log their experiences with the smell and take note of factors like wind direction. Now, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) has recognized concerns being reported by community members, confirming spikes in poor air quality that could possibly be related to the industrial park in St. Catherine near Kahnawake Survival School (KSS).

“I know people were commenting on social media. They have a lot of questions. For us, we wanted the community to know this is something we’re seeing, the situation, and we’re going to look into it as well,” said MCK chief Cody Diabo, who is on the environment portfolio.

The MCK’s announcement confirmed that KEPO noticed spikes in poor air quality last week using monitoring devices through the environment office’s Air Quality Monitoring Program.

“Right around the time people were calling in about the strong smell, we had detected a spike in our system by Peter Foxy Road and all that area. That’s what we have right now,” said Diabo.

However, according to Diabo, more sophisticated air quality monitors are currently stuck at the border. Those machines will provide a more detailed analysis of the air that could be useful in determining the source.

Given the nature of the smell, some community members blame a plastic recycling facility that was added last year to a battery recycling plant operated by Terrapure Environmental.

“Terrapure is committed to being a good neighbour and takes environmental, health, and safety matters extremely seriously,” said general manager of the facility, Denis Beaulieu, in a statement to The Eastern Door.

“As soon as we became aware of concerns in the community late last week, we immediately reached out to a representative to arrange a meeting. It would not be respectful nor appropriate to discuss the matter further until we’ve been able to meet and understand the nature of the issue.”

According to Diabo, Terrapure reached out to the MCK, and a meeting will most likely take place in late May. The MCK will also meet with the mayor of St. Catherine, Jocelyne Bates, who also reached out, Diabo said.

Deer believes Terrapure should begin by releasing data that could help the community decipher the facility’s possible role in the air quality problem.

“If Terrapure could provide information on what exactly they are emitting into the air, that would be a start,” said Deer. “But ultimately, I hope that this issue is further investigated to find the source and determine what are the pollutants being released into the air.”

Diabo noted the industrial area, home to multiple facilities, has long been a source of concern, with the old KSS grounds being contaminated by heavy metals. He suggested it is necessary to continue investigating to find a definitive source or sources of the issues now being reported.

“As this develops, we’ll have more information for the community,” he said.

The Ministry of Environment is heading to the scene

Asked by Le Reflet about Kahnawake's concerns regarding pollution emissions from Sainte-Catherine, the Ministry of Environment and Fight Against Climate Change, Wildlife, and Parks confirmed being informed of the situation at the beginning of May.

Valérie Lessard - Le Soleil

The Ministry conducted an inspection on May 3, stated Ghizlane Behdaoui, regional spokesperson for the Ministry of Environment. No breaches or specific odors were noted at the site, but there was no activity since the plant is currently in a lockout, she added.

As for the City of Sainte-Catherine, they reported being informed on May 3 of Kahnawake's concerns about the industrial park neighboring the Indigenous territory. "The City takes these allegations very seriously and is currently investigating the matter. However, we do not have further details to communicate on the subject at this time," responded the municipality in writing.