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The Swan Hills Processing Center opened in 1987 to receive and destroy polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
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A toxic materials processing center will soon close its doors in Swan Hills, northwest of Edmonton. Despite its announced closure, concerns persist about its long-term impact on the environment and on the economic vitality of the small community.
The center Swan Hills Processing Facility opened in 1987 to receive and destroy polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a synthetic chemical whose manufacture and sale has been banned in Canada since 1977.
PCBs were primarily used in the manufacturing of electrical equipment until the 1970s. They are sometimes referred to as forever chemicals, because of their long-term impact on the environment. They are also carcinogenic and harmful to human health.
The Swan Hills facility is unique in Canada because it can destroy large volumes of highly concentrated PCBs by incinerating them at high temperatures. They also process other types of toxic waste from Alberta, including biomedical waste from hospitals.
In 2020, the provincial government announced the closure of the processing center, citing high operating costs and the federal government's desire to destroy all PCBs still in use by 2025. The province expects the Swan facility to Hills will be completely closed in early 2026.
On October 16, 1996, PCBs, dioxins and toxic materials were released into the environment at due to a furnace problem. Following the event, an advisory was issued not to consume game hunted and fish caught within a 30 kilometer radius of the center.
Almost 30 years later, the notice is still in effect, although less restrictive than at the time.
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An explosion also occurred on July 21, 1997. Although the company operating the facility at the time said the risk of contamination was minimal, PCB levels measured around the plant were up to 14 times higher than average.
In 2009, another explosion and fire forced the facility to close for 10 months .
Citizens supported the project from the start, says Swan Hills city councilor Jeff Goebel. The support hasn't diminished since I've lived here.
The toxic waste treatment center still employs dozens of people in the area. Its announced closure will definitely be a hard blow for our city, says Jeff Goebel, who has already worked there.
As for the advice not to eat game and fish in the area, he says he is not too worried. He claims that many citizens think the same thing and continue to hunt and fish near the center, despite the advice.
For its part, the environmental group Keepers of the Water, which has advocated for this closure for years, remains concerned about the long-term impacts of the treatment center's activities on the surrounding environment.
Jule Asterisk, a resident of the area who supports their approach, explains that these problems are very worrying, because in the event of an unplanned release, untold quantities of contaminants are released into the air and people want to know where they fall and what are their effects on health.
There are many more people who have concerns than people who think it's a good thing , she said.
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