A fire truck leaves Hammond Cedar after a fire flared up again in a silo.

Hammond mill meeting Metro air quality standards

Residents forced to evacuate during a fire Nov. 14 complain sawdust coating Maple Ridge neighbourhood

A cedar mill in Maple Ridge that sparked the evacuation of a nearby homes following a fire has been meeting air quality standards despite concerns from neighbours who report an increasing amount of sawdust in the air.

Metro Vancouver confirmed Hammond Cedar remains compliant with its permit.

“The last test results show it is in compliance. Our visual observations also show they are in compliance and we’ve received no complaints,” said Ray Robb, Metro Vancouver’s manager of regulation and enforcement.

Annual testing was last conducted in June after the Interfor-owned sawmill fixed its electrostatic precipitator (air cleaner), which Robb said had been having problems for almost a year.

“They delayed testing until after they got that fixed … their permit is pretty tight,” said Robb, noting maximum emissions are capped at 20 milligrams per cubic metre and 10 per cent opacity, which means people should not be able to see a visible plume spewing from its smoke stack.

Stack testing in June found the mill was emitting between 16 or 17 mg/m3.

As for increasing sawdust in the lower Hammond neighbourhood, Robb said it could be from a number of sources, including “bag houses,” which the mill uses to store sawdust.

Sawdust can also escape while the mill is loading wood chips onto barges, especially when  windy.

Bert Pogany, who lives next to the mill, complained about sawdust in August and still believes the mill isn’t doing enough to keep “fugitive dust” from escaping.

Metro Vancouver says the District of Maple Ridge did not forward Pogany’s complaint to them.

Pogany and his family was forced to leave their home for two hours Thursday after a fire started in the sawmill’s dust collection system.

For the past year, he has noticed more and more sawdust coating his home. He needs to power wash his house and cleans his gutters three times a year. He’s even installed an air purifying system, similar to the kind used in hospitals, that runs continuously.

“It’s overwhelming now,” he said.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says breathing in fine particulates can cause heart disease and contribute to chronic lung disease. They also aggravate asthma and chronic sinusitis.

Interfor said the company is committed to meeting the highest environmental standards and noted the tests by Metro Vancouver in June showed the Hammond Mill is in compliance with a local air action plan.

• Metro Vancouver encouraged residents to call its air quality complaints line at 604-436-6777 if they continue to have concerns.

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