June 7, 2004

Bennett's Belledune facility to be referred to review panel

Federal Environment Minister David Anderson has decided to refer Bennett Environmental's proposal for a high-temperature soil treatment facility in Belledune, New Brunswick to a review panel. The panel will assess the significance of the project's potential transboundary environmental effects in Quebec and on federal lands and waters.

The Minister decided on the referral even though a technical analysis of the facility proposal, which he requested from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, found no reason to conclude that the project would be likely to cause significant adverse transboundary environmental effects. He maintained that that further assessment is needed because Health Canada considers the data to be too limited to state with absolute confidence that there are no human health concerns for transboundary communities.

"An assessment by a review panel will seek to address important concerns related to the potential environmental effects of a transboundary nature, in particular with respect to the human health effects in transboundary communities," Anderson said.

His decision was made pursuant to the transboundary provisions of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (sections 46, 47 and 48) and was based on his consideration of the technical analysis. Anderson asked the Agency to conduct the analysis last fall after opponents of the Bennett proposal submitted petitions seeking referral of the soil treatment facility project to a review.

The analysis was undertaken by experts from Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada together with information received from the petitioners, environmental groups, Bennett Environmental (the proponent), First Nations and the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec. Its results were based both on technical information and consideration of the operating conditions stipulated by the New Brunswick government in the approvals it has issued for the project.

Air emissions, which would be the only type of operational release from the facility, were the focal point of the technical review; the expert committee examined the potential impacts, cumulative and otherwise, of such emissions. Among other things, Environment Canada reviewers concluded that provisions for the design, operation and management of the Belledune facility are consistent with both national guidelines and international agreements relating to new emission sources, including hazardous waste incinerators. The department was satisfied that the facility will be able to meet all applicable emission limits and has taken an appropriate approach to estimating emissions in the event of a process upset. (The provincial approval requires Bennett to produce contingency plans for such an incident, as well as for other types of accidents and malfunctions, such as spills.)

With regard to cumulative effects on the Baie-des-Chaleurs, representatives from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans concluded that the proposed facility is unlikely to cause significant harm to habitats and resources in the bay or to aquatic life there or downstream in the Gulf of St Lawrence.

Bennett president and CEO Al Bulkaert welcomed the technical analysis, calling it "the third-party, independent review of our operations that some people have been seeking.

"The results speak for themselves and the CEAA report should give people the additional verification and assurances that the human health and environmental safety issues have been adequately addressed. The federal government findings are similar to those of the province and other related independent studies," he added.

In a corporate statement responding to Anderson's decision and rationale, Bennett Environmental said "although these statements by the Environment Minister are confusing and troubling to the company, specifically when we were told by Health Canada on several occasions that they did not require any additional information, we are endeavouring to determine what information Health Canada is lacking."

Bennett further reported that construction of the Belledune facility is about 85% complete, with commissioning scheduled to begin in mid-July.

Details on the establishment of the review panel will be made public soon. More information, as well as The Report on the Analysis of Potential Transboundary Effects of the Proposed Bennett High Temperature Thermal Oxidizer in Belledune, New Brunswick, in electronic format, may be requested from Elise Dhaussy at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 613/957-0406, E-mail elise.dhaussy@ceaa-acee.gc.ca.

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