Peace Valley OSB is a different company than when it faced numerous penalties for fraud and flouting environmental regulations, Fort St. John residents heard last night at an open house held by the company – but some came away unconvinced.
Since its decision to apply to the Ministry of Environment to use potentially hazardous MDI resin in its process, PVOSB, located within Fort St. John at the eastern limit of town, has been under fire from concerned residents, particularly Baldonnel Elementary School teacher Sandra Cushway. Cushway organized a meeting Tuesday night where residents discussed the blemished history of the plant’s operator, Louisiana Pacific.
PVOSB repeatedly tests emissions until they get results that comply with regulations, said Sandra Cushway, organizer of the meeting, who added this was proven in a letter from the PVOSB environmental manager Lindsay Sahaydak to environmental protection officer Barb Beyer.
Formaldehyde levels were measured by two different labs, however “results did not compare favourably between the two laboratories. Results in QAQC (Quality Assurance and Quality Control) from Alberta Innovates were again high on the dryer and QAQC on both of the field spikes failed or came back high. We feel that this discrepancy confirms the original conclusion that was drawn last quarter to disregard the formaldehyde results,” Cushway read.
“In light of the failed QAQC connected to Alberta Innovates, we are disregarding these findings and accepting the findings from” the other lab.
Cushway had a friend in the environmental sciences analyze the response and said it showed PVOSB was cherry-picking test results.
But Sahaydak said QAQC refers to the lab’s testing process itself, so the results actually meant the lab had performed the tests incorrectly.
“The stack testing companies notified us there was an issue with the test results, and the levels were so high, we’d never seen before that we thought it was really strange,” Sahaydak said.
“So we looked into our process data to see if there was anything in our process that would cause such a level, didn’t find anything and at the same time the stack testing company was looking into the lab results.
“What the lab results showed was the lab actually failed their own internal quality control testing which basically means all the results have to be disregarded.”
She said the samples were sent again to the same company, Alberta Innovates, but also to another, so if the lab failed again there would still be a sample to send the government. Alberta Innovates did fail their internal audit again, she said.
Sahaydak said LP and PVOSB have won safety awards over the last few years. She said LP is the safest company in the building products industry, which proved their reputation, and the company has raised environmental standards in the last couple of years.
“We have had some issues in the past and we’ve been working to resolve them. And because we’re a newer plant, the regulations we have for our emissions are actually a lot stricter than you would have at an older plant. We do have advanced pollution control technology and it’s working pretty well for us now.”
Another complaint from citizens was that LP schedules emissions tests when it is convenient so they can run a cleaner operation during the test period.
“The permit has specific requirements around doing a stack test,” said Kevin Warkentin, LP environmental director.
“The mill needs to operate at nearly maximum capacity or maximum historic production over the previous 90 days. And operate as near as possible to the 90th percentile, so the 9th best day, during the test.”
He said if people believe that means the company is lowering production to reduce emissions during tests, “they’re just uninformed about what the requirements are.”
He said citizens who distrust LP are mistaken.
“I don’t think that should at all be the case,” he said. “I think we’re a very good corporate citizen. We’ve been doing OSB for 20 years, the company has an excellent track record for both as the safest company in the industry and the environmental history over the last 10, 15 years so I don’t think we have any issues around the that.”
It was 15 years ago that LP was slapped with a $37 million fine for fraud, equipment tampering and falsifying emission reports.
Warkentin said the group opposed to PVOSB, led by Cushway, is ignoring the facts and dredging up decades-old issues that no longer reflect the way the company is presently run.
PVOSB general manager Ian Coote said MDI is the best product for the process industry-wide. When Fort St. John residents were told there would not be MDI 12 years ago, it was because the industry overall had shifted away from MDI and did not consider it the most economical and least harmful option, but things have changed, he said.
Not everyone believed much was different. Chad Chapple called the open house a “smoke show.”
“They said at the last meeting – just by adding one shift last year, their numbers went way up, they work 24 hours now. Their profits skyrocketed. So they’re definitely not suffering,” he said.
“MDI is more expensive, but they use less than half as much as the other product. But that’s what they do – make money. They’re a conglomerate that’s worldwide and I don’t like it.”
“I’ve a great mistrust of this company,” said Oliver Mott. “This is all very smooth, and their representatives can talk but it needs to be actions, not words.
“Overall my own concern is not locally but it’s global, for the whole world. I’m afraid at the rate we’re going with the population increase and the aspirations for all these people for material wealth and gadgets, it’s not sustainable and I fear we’re smothering the world.”
More than 1,000 people have signed a petition opposing PVOSB's use of MDI. Comments from citizens heard at Tuesday's meeting will be accepted as part of PVOSB's application to the Ministry of Environment, which has yet to announce its decision in the matter.