A group of south St. Boniface residents and business owners are critical of air-quality testing conducted by provincial staff at a scrap metal operation in their neighbourhood and want the government to redo the tests using an independent firm.

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This article was published 14/8/2017 (1450 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A group of south St. Boniface residents and business owners are critical of air-quality testing conducted by provincial staff at a scrap metal operation in their neighbourhood and want the government to redo the tests using an independent firm.

The South St. Boniface Residents Association is meeting with senior government officials this week, when they will push for new testing surrounding the controversial Industrial Metals operation.

The residents said two industry experts they consulted found the provincial testing conducted last year was inadequate and its conclusions misleading.

"We’re concerned about the air we’re breathing and we just want the tests done right — I don’t think that’s too much to ask," area resident Michelle Berger said. "We don’t know what’s happening at the plant, and based on the tests the government has done, neither do they."

Industrial Metals is a scrap metal operation located on Rue Messier in Winnipeg’s Mission industrial park. In August 2015, the company installed an auto shredder — a massive device that physically pounds vehicles into component parts — and area residents and business owners have been complaining about noise, dust and a foul odour, which they say have been caused by the plant, and are concerned about the impacts on their health.

In response to the neighbourhood concerns, the province conducted air-quality testing surrounding the plant between March and August 2016. It said the results from the tests found nothing from the plant that poses a threat to the surrounding neighbourhood and dismissed the need for any further testing.

"Based upon the results of this screening study, Manitoba Sustainable Development does not have any concerns about the air quality in the Dufresne area of St. Boniface at this time," said the conclusion from the study that was released in March. "No further sampling is recommended based on a review of the results."

The study shocked residents and business owners and prompted the residents association to find its own experts to critique the province’s study.

Shirley Thompson, an associate professor in the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Manitoba, reviewed the provincial study and said it failed to test for factors that might pose a threat to human health. She said the conclusions that the plant didn’t pose a threat and no further testing is warranted could not be supported by how the study was conducted and what it found.

"When people are expressing concerns about their health, respiratory diseases," the tests should be looking for things that can get into their lungs, she said, adding the provincial study failed to do that.

"That’s very problematic," said Thompson, who has a master’s degree in environmental engineering and industrial hygiene and is considered an expert in industrial hygiene and eco-health. "That’s basic, very basic information."

A second review conducted by Brian Zelt, a professional engineer from Alberta who’s considered an expert in air dispersion modelling, found similar problems with the provincial tests. He concluded "there are several short-comings of the (provincial) study."

Zelt’s report said the shortcomings he identified in the provincial testing "discredit the air study from being a definitive statement about health or the industrial area emissions."

The ownership of Industrial Metals did not respond to a request for an interview.

A provincial government spokesman said no new evidence has come forward to warrant a second round of testing.

"At this time, there has been no new evidence to indicate there is any risk to public health, but Sustainable Development will continue to monitor the facility and ensure it is in compliance with its environmental licence," he said.

Wes Rist, owner of Gateway Construction, said the odours coming the Industrial Metals plant are "unbelievable" on some days.

"It’s everywhere — it’s in the building, it’s outside… it makes you sick," said Rist, whose business is located on Archibald Street, close to Industrial Metals. Rist said he supports the residents association’s call for a second round of testing.

"Someone should go right to the (shredder) and diagnose what’s coming out of that and get it reduced — not stand three miles away and say, ‘Can I smell something?’ Go to the source of the problem and check it out right there."

The residents association said almost 200 residents have filed formal complaints with the province about the plant since the shredder went into operation and it has a petition with more than 1,700 signatures demanding a new round of testing.

Berger said she recognizes the work done by Industrial Metals is necessary, but added the problems with the provincial testing identified by the experts undermine public confidence in the province’s ability to properly conduct environmental assessments and testing. She hopes it prompts the government to agree to the group’s request for an independent study.

"What we’re hearing from everyone in the area is that they’re not satisfied," Berger said. "Why wouldn’t you do proper testing?"

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca