Moore Park residents want a bylaw requiring crematoriums to be 300 metres away to apply to the cemetery, where updated equipment will reduce emissions but raise capacity.
July 8, 2013
Alex Nino Gheciu
It may be summertime, but Margot Boyd never savours the scents wafting through her neighbourhood.
“When I go out and I sniff, I wonder, ‘Is this human remains or animal remains?’ ” said the 52-year-old, who lives a block from Mount Pleasant Cemetery and Crematorium.
Locals in the Moore Park neighbourhood are fuming over plans to upgrade the existing cremators, arguing that a new city bylaw requires at least 300 metres of distance between new crematoriums and homes due to health concerns over their emissions.
Although the Ministry of Environment has approved Mount Pleasant’s application for the new cremators, local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has launched an appeal of the decision. The ministry, which declined to comment, is expected to respond to the appeal Monday.
Mount Pleasant argues that the crematorium, which was built 16.5 metres from the neighbourhood in 1972, has been “grandfathered” into the area and doesn’t need to follow new regulations. The company says the new cremators, while allowing for more frequent burns, will greatly reduce emissions.
“All we’re doing is trying to keep pace with the increase in demand that exists as more individuals in the population are choosing cremation,” said Mount Pleasant spokesman Rick Cowan.
Wong-Tam says the new cremators should be subject to the new bylaw, which came into effect in April and imposes significant distance between crematoriums and residential areas “to protect public health.”
“The community has made it repeatedly known they are very concerned about the health impacts of the emissions and toxins being released into the air,” said Wong-Tam. “Now that (Mount Pleasant) is applying for new expanded facilities, they should follow the new rules.”
Since Mount Pleasant had a pre-existing permit before the new ruling, “their use is allowed to continue,” said city planning spokesman Bruce Hawkins.
Trevor Currie, 43, worries about the effect living near Mount Pleasant has had on his children’s health.
“Both my kids were gestated and born living about 100 metres away from where they burn thousands of bodies and caskets a year,” he said. “Parents don’t realize their kids are living close to these harmful emissions.”
Cowan says the new equipment will reduce the crematorium’s emissions, which can include mercury, nitrogen oxides, dioxins and furans, by over 99 per cent. Carbon monoxide emissions, however, will more than double due to an increase in burner size.
“It’s baffling when you try to do the right thing and people don’t want you to,” said Cowan.
But Wong-Tam argues the more efficient incinerators could pose a “cumulative risk” of exposure to carcinogens.
“They’re saying the emissions are being reduced, but they’ll be able to burn more bodies faster,” she said. “It’s a lucrative business.”
Heather Marshall, of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, says studies show exposure to even small amounts of mercury and nitrogen oxides, found in crematory emissions, could adversely affect fetal development.
“It’s not just the dose that makes the poison,” said Marshall. “Timing is important when you’re talking about development stages of a child … And how close is too close?”
Cowan said Mount Pleasant Cemetery incinerated 1,100 bodies last year and expects the numbers to rise as market demand for cremations grows. Over half of Canadians who die this year will be cremated, compared with fewer than 5 per cent 50 years ago, according to industry statistics.
Boyd fears Mount Pleasant’s grandfathered clause has put her children at risk of developing serious illnesses.
“At some point the grandfather’s got to die,” she said. “But we’re all going to die before the grandfather.”