Tuesday, October 12, 2010


So if you speak the devil's name, he has a habit of appearing. Last night I mentioned the dump was still on fire. Fortunately during most of the few weeks that it's been smoking out there, the prevailing winds drove it out of town.

Today? Not so much.

It was kind of a swirling wind and most of the time it was blowing from the south. In terms of the weather, it was a beautiful day. Sunny, but in a nice, crisp fall day. If it wasn't for all the smoke blowing over the town, it would have been perfect. It produced a smell that, as one person said, smelled like old smelly socks being burned in a rusty oil drum.

It was around lunch time when things started to get twitchy. The schools decided to close, the argument being that the air quality inside the schools wasn't good for students. Then, about an hour or so later, the Government of Nunavut closed for the day. You can go to CBC and Nunsatsiaq to read their coverage.

Now, the fascinating thing for me wasn't that this happened. We've been lucky so far on the dump fire and I imagine before it's put out we're going to have a few more days like this. No, the fascinating thing for me was watching the reaction online, specifically Twitter. There was more than passing fury that the GN closed for the day and that schools were closed. The fury was expressed in the following ways.

1. Why close the schools? The air is going to be bad all over town, so what difference does it make if they're in school or at home?
2. If the air is so bad, why are kids playing on the playground?
3. Nunavut's chief health official said there is no danger in the smoke from the dump fire, so why send people home?
4. If there is a problem, why didn't the GN issue a public health advisory? Why were only GN employees at risk from these fumes and needed to be send home and not everyone else in town?
5. The air here is not so bad compared to other places, so suck it up.

So yes, quite the bit of outrage and surliness going on.

Lord knows I'm not going to defend the GN. Some of these gripes are probably very legitimate. However, I will point out a couple of things, just to counter-argue a bit.

1. Cathy's school was pretty well uninhabitable this afternoon. Going in there, even for a few minutes, nearly brought on an asthmatic attack. For whatever reason, the air inside the building was much worse than the air outside of the building. And her school has suffered from some air quality issues in the past. I can't speak for the other schools in town, but it sounds like the made the right call at hers.

2. Trying to decide whether or not to close the GN is one of those no-win situations. If you close, government employees are lazy bastards getting a day off. If they stay open, they're potentially putting their employees at risk. I'm willing to bet someone called Workplace Health and Safety and asked if they should be at work if they were feeling ill.

3. People react different to the fumes. I had a low grade headache and a bad taste in my mouth. I know someone who had her first nose bleed in years today. Cathy had problems breathing. I really think it's hard to develop a policy on what to do when the smoke blows over town. Some people are simply going to be hit very hard by it, some are not. Some will tough it out, some are going to take advantage of the situation and try to scam a day off. Develop a policy based on that.

4. I wonder if there is an argument to be made about people in Nunavut, particularly Inuit, simply not having as much of an ability to handle airbourne pollution as someone who came here from Toronto. If you come from a place where pollution and smog warnings are regular occurances, then this type of smoke is probably not a big deal. But if you're used to breathing the pristine air of Nunavut, this kind of crap could hit you hard.

As I said, lord knows I'm not defending the GN. The situation could undoubtedly have been handled better. But it is a weird situation and one that's not easily dealt with when there are a variety of factors at play.

But yeah, if the wind were to blow constantly from the south for a week or more, that's when things could start to get deeply ugly.

Last Five
1. Girls room - Liz Phair
2. Smooth criminal - Alien Ant Farm*
3. Sleazy bed track - The Bluetones
4. Working man's blues #2 - Bob Dylan
5. Never said - Liz Phair

1 comment:

Megan said...

I'm not going to defend the GN, but I'm willing to bet that my guess is not far off:

1) The air quality inside the school was legitimately not good for students.

2) Parent after parent then needed to take the rest of the day off to go home and be with their kids.

3) At a certain point, someone decided that there was no point in keeping a few already understaffed public offices open.

4) That decision was then used to justify closing even more public offices.

5) That decision was then used to justify sending everyone (??) home. (Was it really "everyone"? I have a hard time believing it was everyone.)

It just does not make sense for it to have happened any other way. Most offices shouldn't be any more unhealthy than private homes. Unless I'm missing something about GN office construction, their employees certainly shouldn't be at any additional risk than people in other offices.