Some residents in the Dufresne area of St. Boniface say an industrial metal shredder is putting their health at risk and making their Winnipeg neighbourhood an unpleasant place to live.
The province, however, says its air-quality survey proves the neighbourhood is safe — a conclusion the residents and an environmental researcher disagree with.
In 2015, Industrial Metals, which has been in the Mission Industrial area of St. Boniface for decades, installed a large metal shredder, located less than a kilometre from the residential area.
Residents say shortly after, they began to hear loud noises which shook their homes, and noticed chemical smells in the neighbourhood and a fine dust coating their cars, properties and even the insides of their homes.
Christine Dickie has lived on Archibald Street, across from the industrial area, for 10 years. She said she sees "lots of little particles, white grey things flying around. The smell is terrible, the noise is thump, thump, thump all the time."
Dickie blames the shredder and a near-constant stream of trucks for cracks in her walls that keep appearing and re-appearing — despite her efforts to patch them.
Dickie, who lives with asthma, also says she has to dust her house every second day.
Site of 2015 fire
Her concerns don't surprise Teresa Cwik, the vice-president of the South St. Boniface Residents' Association. Cwik and her group originally opposed the shredder, and have fought to have it shut down since it began operating.
Cwik has lived in Dufresne all her life, but says her neighbourhood is "not really that great anymore" since the shredder started operating.
"In the summertime, especially if you're on holidays, you can't have a peaceful moment in your backyard. You can't open your windows," she said.
Cwik also worries about the possibility of another large fire, similar to the $15-million fire at St. Boniface's Speedway International fuel plant in October 2012.
"What if we have a big one? Then all the black smoke and everything — we'd be breathing all the chemicals and things like that."
Industrial Metals was the site of a large fire in 2015, shortly after the shredder was installed.
Emergency services have been called to the business "11 times since Feb. 28, 2012 for all response types (fire, emergency medical, etc.)," according to a City of Winnipeg spokesperson.
Report finds no air quality concerns
Cwik provided the CBC with a stack of signed complaint forms from people who live in the area, collected by the residents' association in late 2015.
"When there is smoke in the air my children and I have to stay in. My son has asthma and coughs 24/7," one resident wrote.
Others also said the smell of smoke kept them from going outside and that smoke and dust were causing breathing issues for them.
Many of the complainants pointed the finger at Industrial Metals.
The CBC asked Industrial Metals for an interview. They have not yet responded.
In March of 2016, following months of complaints to Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship (now called Manitoba Sustainable Development), the department agreed to conduct an air-quality survey.
Conservation and Water Stewardship set up air monitoring stations in 11 locations around Industrial Metals between March and August 2016, and looked at the levels of 30 metals and suspended particles in the air.
The report was released in early March of this year by Manitoba Sustainable Development. According to the report's conclusions, the department "does not have any concerns about the air quality in the Dufresne area of St. Boniface at this time."
The report goes on to say no further sampling is recommended.
But those results don't satisfy Cwik and her group.
"They may have said that the testing was OK, or in their limits, but there shouldn't be any chemicals in the air or any of that stuff," Cwik said.
She's not alone in her criticism of the report.
Report a 'waste of money,' says researcher
"They missed the boat," said Shirley Thompson, an associate professor in the University of Manitoba's Natural Resources Institute, who has also worked for Environment Canada.
"They completely compared it to the wrong regulations. They did the wrong analysis."
Thompson says the province should have placed the air-quality sampling equipment closer to Industrial Metals and should have focused on small airborne particles, which she says residents are noticing on their cars and homes.
"That's the stuff that's entrained in the air that gets in our lungs and deposits into our lungs and causes the huge damage," Thompson said.
She said in its current form, the report is a "platitude" for residents and a "waste of money."
Province stands by report
Don Labossiere disagrees. He's the director of environmental compliance and enforcement with Manitoba Sustainable Development.
Labossiere said the "air monitoring regime we did was not necessarily intended to be super accurate and super precise," and he's standing by the conclusions of his report.
"At least with this situation we are confident that the impacts do not exist, or are minimal," he said, and added that if the report had shown otherwise, the department would have stepped up its monitoring.
When asked about the concerns brought up about the testing by Cwik and Thompson, Labossiere said he's seen these kinds of complaints before.
"Sometimes it's just a function of just not wanting a facility there," he said. "The department is comfortable that the impacts they're concerned about do not exist."
Thompson says based on the conclusions of this report, and reports from residents, she would not move to the neighbourhood.
"If I was living in that area, I would definitely consult my doctor and have my children tested for asthma, for bronchial disorders, and … cancer-causing metals."
Air quality under provincial jurisdiction: MP
The South St. Boniface Residents' Association has reached out to all of their elected representatives. St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard says he has been working on a medium- to long-term plan on "how we mitigate conflicts in land use between residential and industrial," but says he believes the Dufresne neighbourhood is safe.
In an emailed statement, Liberal MP and former St. Boniface councillor Dan Vandal said he is "aware of the concerns that were raised by the South St. Boniface Residents' Association and I share their concerns."
Vandal added that he has been working to address the issue of placing residential and industrial areas next to each other, but points out that "in Manitoba, local air quality issues fall under provincial jurisdiction."
New Democrat MLA Greg Selinger, who was premier when Industrial Metals was given permission to install the shredder, is working with the residents' group to find a solution.
Not leaving or giving up
Cwik said the neighbourhood association will continue to try to convince the province that more needs to be done, and is considering paying for their own air and soil testing.
"I've lived here all my life, and I was here before the shredder," Cwik said when asked why residents stay in Dufresne despite their health concerns.
"This is a really nice neighbourhood. It's quiet, the people love it, people don't generally move from this area," she added.
"And if you do, where are you going to go? With housing costs and things like that … it's hard for someone to actually leave. "
With files from Samuel Rancourt.
Email Leif Larsen