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Deadline looming for public comment on MDI use at Peace Valley OSB

Duncan Cran Elementary was one of the hottest spots in Fort St. John recently, as about 50 people came to speak out – mostly against – the Peace Valley OSB mill’s plan to use a new chemical in its procedure.
A public meeting about MDI use at the Peace Valley OSB plant was held at Duncan Cran Elementary School.

Duncan Cran Elementary was one of the hottest spots in Fort St. John recently, as about 50 people came to speak out – mostly against – the Peace Valley OSB mill’s plan to use a new chemical in its procedure.

There are only a few days left for the public to comment on whether Louisiana-Pacific (LP), the owner of the mill on the far southeastern edge of Fort St. John, can change the resin it uses to help glue pieces of wood together to make oriented strand board – a type of particleboard – from formaldehyde to Methylene Diphenyl di-isocyanate (MDI).

In order to change the chemical it uses, LP must first get approval from the B.C. Ministry of Environment. The company has submitted a plan, but that plan is subject to public comment until Nov. 6.

However, if all the comments the public have made to the Ministry were in line with those made at Duncan Cran on Thursday, Peace Valley OSB might have an uphill climb.

Arnold Tacer said that he lived “downwind” of the plant.

“You’re increasing pollution and I don’t think you’re doing anything for the community,” he said at the meeting.

Tacer also said that he sent a letter to Louisiana-Pacific and the Ministry of Environment but had yet to get “a clear response” from either group.

Another meeting attendee, Les Elliot, said he had concerns because of promises made by officials at the mill, which was once a co-venture between Canfor and LP, not to use MDI in their procedure when the plant was first considered.

Another speaker, Jennifer Hammond, spoke about difficulties she claims her family has had with Peace Valley OSB.

Mills like Peace Valley are required to collect water that runs through their logs and log yard into a retention pond. According to Greg Hammond, her father, that pond overflowed onto their property multiple times between 2007 and May 2013.

The first time it happened, Hammond said, he was “assured that there would be no residual effect on the land or the crops,” and Peace Valley compensated him for lost hay.

But after the floods began, he continued, the hay did not grow back the way it once did.

“Peace Valley OSB is satisfied that there’s no contamination in the land, but we’re not satisfied with the reports,” he said.

Hammond said there is a lawsuit about this issue. “We have brought suit against them and told them what we think is wrong with the program,” he told the Alaska Highway News. “They’ve come back to us and said, ‘We agree with this, we don’t agree with that.’”

“It’s really in the lawyers’ hands right now.”

However, he also said that based on his previous experience with the management of Peace Valley OSB, he doesn’t trust them to use MDI.

“We’ve been told over and over again, ‘This will never happen again. This will never happen again.’ I mean, obviously we have no trust in those people at all,” Hammond added. “How could we have trust?”

Questions directed to LP representatives about the Hammonds’ concerns were not returned as of press time.

A longtime opponent of Peace Valley OSB, Baldonnel teacher Sandra Cushway, led last Thursday’s meeting. Cushway continues to be an active critic of Peace Valley, at one point paying for thousands of pages of Ministry of Environment documents about the mill.

During the meeting, she spoke of incidents she said she found in the documents, describing memos concerning particulate matter blowing from the plant onto neighbouring properties, dryer stack testing out of compliance, failures to remove combustible dust and other issues.

She claimed these documents showed problems with the modelling Peace Valley OSB used to prepare for flooding and particulate matter in the air near the facility. She said this led her to question whether Peace Valley OSB has a safe model for the use of MDI.

Cushway was angered that “there was never a fine or shutdown to this company” because of these failures. “I keep hearing that the company is doing better, but I don’t feel it,” she said.

Regarding MDI, Cushway said that she “didn’t like” that in her opinion, B.C. didn’t have the same level of environmental standards for MDI as for the formaldehyde resin the OSB mill currently uses.

“Peace Valley have said they’ll follow the standards of Alberta and Ontario. But I don’t feel good about this company using this,” Cushway said, to applause from the crowd.

Managers and employees of Peace Valley also attended the meeting, and defended their company’s

“I don’t think we have the greatest track record,” Manager Wayne Perry told meeting attendees.

However, he said that the company was attempting to improve. He also said that many of the complaints referenced by Cushway and other attendees were made when the day-to-day operations at Peace Valley OSB were overseen by a different regime.

When the plant was first opened, it was a joint venture between Canfor and Louisiana-Pacific. Perry claimed that Canfor actually ran the day-to-day operations of the mill. However, in May 2013, Canfor sold their stake in the plant to LP.

He also explained that when the mill was first opened, the high price of oil – from which MDI is derived – made it cost-prohibitive to use. But those costs have fallen. Also, Perry added, many other OSB mills use MDI in their operations.

Perry said that LP was looking to switch resins in an effort to remain commercially viable. “(MDI) has a pretty serious competitive advantage to what we’re currently using,” he said. “We’ll build a stronger product, we can ship it to new markets.”

He also promised that the plant would spend money on retrofitting the plant to ensure the use of MDI would be environmentally friendly.

Cushway said that there had been hundreds of letters sent to the Ministry of Environment about Peace Valley OSB’s proposed use of MDI, adding that she hoped even more people would speak out about the

“Wayne Perry said that they looked to the government for guidelines, but they’re willing to do more than that,” she said. “I just really hope that someone will come along and actually walk the talk for a change.”

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