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Fort St. John's Peace Valley OSB mill given green light on MDI

Despite local opposition, Peace Valley Oriented Strand Board (OSB) in Fort St. John has been granted an amendment to its Environmental Certificate to allow the use of a controversial chemical in its manufacturing process.

Despite local opposition, Peace Valley Oriented Strand Board (OSB) in Fort St. John has been granted an amendment to its Environmental Certificate to allow the use of a controversial chemical in its manufacturing process.

The plant is currently only permitted to use phenol formaldehyde resin as an adhesive — a condition on its original certificate.

The Louisiana Pacific Ltd. (LP) plant applied for the amendment to use methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI, at its factory for the production of its particleboard items in spring 2014.

Before that, it had applied to the Ministry of the Environment for an amendment to its Discharge Authorization Permit to use MDI at the plant in late fall 2012.

MDI would be incorporated as a resin into the core of the oriented strand board before it undergoes the pressing process. During that process, MDI would be discharged from the press vent stack.

The news of the certificate's amendment was met with disdain from at least one Baldonnel resident, Sandra Cushway, whose 2013 Freedom of Information request revealed "hundreds of pages" of non-compliance to environmental regulations with Peace Valley OSB.

Peace Valley OSB is now following up on its discharge permit from the Ministry of Environment to have it altered to include MDI emissions.

"[The amendment] is one step, now we work with Ministry of Environment to get our permit done and that process will begin immediately," LP's Regional Operations Manager Mac Palmiere told Alaska Highway News.

Palmiere expects to meet with the ministry this week.

Some residents in Fort St. John voiced strong concern over the use of MDI during the original Environmental Assessment process. Those concerns related to air quality and health issues. The use of MDI was not proposed in that initial application, which was granted a certificate in 2002.

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) published a report on Monday that states the use of MDI at Peace Valley OSB would not cause significant adverse effects to human health.

Although B.C. has no laws that regulate air emission standards for MDI, the EAO used emissions regulations in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario to arrive at their conclusion.

It concluded that although there are potential risks with MDI, including skin and respiratory effects from direct contact and from secondary contact with emissions, their studies show that it does not persist in the environment once it has been released out of the stack.

"EAO is satisfied that the application will have no significant adverse environmental, economic, social, heritage, or health effects," the report states, adding that the EAO will take "practical means" to prevent or reduce any potential adverse effects.

"LP will be addressing potential health concerns through the use of the existing pollution control devices at the plant and development of Health and Safety plans which will protect workers within the plant by utilizing training in the proper handling and use of MDI as well as ensuring workers use the proper protective equipment throughout the work day," the EAO reports states.

MDI is commonly used in wood panel manufacturing as the glue which holds particleboard together.

There are 11 mills in Canada using MDI in their manufacturing, including  LP's Dawson Creek plant, the EAO states.

Peace Valley OSB says using MDI will create higher value OSB, lower the risk of fire during the drying process and increase the product's competitiveness in the OSB industry.



Cushway has reservations.

"I'm shocked and disappointed to say the least," she said. "I'm very saddened by the news and disheartened. The company said they wouldn't use it and we had this fight 10 years ago, and then they do."

The results of Cushway's FOI spawned a deep seated distrust of Peace Valley OSB within the community of Baldonnel.

In one letter obtained through the FOI, dated Feb. 12, 2008, Lindsay Sahaydak, then an environmental protection officer for the Ministry of Environment, outlined a previous incident in which Peace Valley OSB's dryer stack failed to comply with the province's regulations for formaldehyde and air flow rate.

In another letter dated Nov. 10, 2008, Sahaydak warned Peace Valley OSB that its environmental data for 2007 was so incomplete that the entire set was useless. In the email to the company, she complained that more than 1,000 hours of data were missing due to instrument errors.

"It made it impossible to do any trend analysis or compare annual averages to other communities," she wrote to the company. "In addition, the turnaround time for receiving the data requested by meteorologists is longer than desirable."

Sahaydak left the Ministry of Environment to take a job with Peace Valley OSB.

"It's unsettling to think that with their track record they can still get amendments to the [certificate] with a highly controversial chemical with no B.C. standards," Cushway added. "There is something wrong with our system."

Cushway plans to file a new FOI request to see how compliant the company has been since the last report she received in August 2013.

"It'll be interesting to see when we request the FOI information next time how compliant this company has been," Cushway said. "We'll just hope that the government has actually held them to some accountability."

In response, Palmiere said the company will try to regain the trust of people within the community by hosting an annual open house and publishing all of its environmental reports with copies available at the Fort St. John Public Library.

"We'll be doing a lot more than what was done historically," Palmiere said.